Democrats and Republicans hold presidential primaries Tuesday in several states including Illinois, Florida and North Carolina - and these three have very distinct profiles when it comes to their Latino electorate.
About one-in-10 eligible voters in Illinois are Hispanic. More than seven-in-10, or 73 percent of the 951,000 eligible Latino voters are of Mexican origin, followed by 15 percent of Puerto Rican origin and 12 percent from other countries, according to the Pew Research Center.
Martin Torres, senior policy analyst for the Latino Policy Forum, a Chicago-based organization, said there were about 410,000 Latinos registered to vote in Illinois during the midterm election in 2014. He expects those numbers will be much higher in the presidential election given the push by local organizations to register more Latinos to vote during last year’s election in Illinois, when Jesus “Chuy” Garcia carried the Latino vote in the race for Chicago mayor but lost. He said those Latino voter registration efforts continue today.
“I think Latinos in Illinois understand what’s at stake and what’s important about this election,” Torres said.
Hispanic voters in Illinois are paying attention to where the candidates stand on issues like immigration, said Torres. He said many Hispanics, especially those of Mexican origin, are upset over comments that Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, has made about Mexican immigrants.
In total, about 1.8 million Hispanics are registered to vote in Florida, and they make up nearly 15 percent of the state’s registered voters.
Xavier Medina Vidal, professor of Latino studies and political science at the University of Arkansas, said Hispanics will have a bigger impact in Florida, where 2.6 million are eligible to vote and where Latinos make up almost 18 percent of the state's eligible voters. It's also the home state of Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, a Cuban American, and where the primary race between the Republican candidates will be competitive.
“I think that’s where Latinos will get to have more of a say,” he said. “We can actually observe them having an impact on the outcomes there.”
Medina Vidal said Latinos in Florida are more likely than other Latino voters to want to know where the candidates stand on issues like the U.S.-Cuban relations and Puerto Rico’s debt crisis due to the state’s large Cuban and Puerto Rican populations.
Florida historically has had a large Cuban-American population, with many of them residing in South Florida, that leaned largely Republican. But that has been changing.
“We’ve seen in the last couple of election cycles how that’s not so much the case anymore,” Medina Vidal said. “You see a lot of Puerto Ricans coming from the island and settling not only in South Florida, but in Central Florida. And that’s changing some of the dynamics.”
Cubans made up 31 percent of Florida’s Hispanic eligible voters in 2014, down from 46 percent in 1990.
Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans increased their share of eligible voters from 25 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2014. The share of Hispanic eligible voters in Florida of other ancestry, including Mexico and Central America, also increased during that same time period, from 29 percent to 42 percent.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary for the candidates to tailor their messages, because the idea of a singular Latino vote just doesn’t play out,” Medina Vidal said.
The share of Latinos registered as Democrats in Florida has grown too. For decades, the number of Latinos registered as Republicans in Florida outnumbered Latinos registered as Democrats. That changed in 2008, and today 479,000 Latinos are registered as Republicans while 678,000 are registered as Democrats, according to the Florida Division of Elections. Another 610,000 Latinos have no party affiliation.
After a substantial increase in the number of Mexican immigrants who moved to North Carolina in recent years, Latino voters are increasing their political power. The Pew Research Center finds the number of Latinos registered to vote increased from 10,000 during the 2004 presidential election to 114,000 during the 2012 presidential election.The share of Latino registered voters in North Carolina has increased from 0.2 percent in 2004 to 2.1 percent today.
Currently, there are about 135,000 Latinos registered to vote for Tuesday’s presidential primary election.
University of Arkansas' Medina Vidal thinks Latinos in North Carolina will have a bigger impact in the general presidential elections than in the primary.
“Historically, Latinos tend to not participate as much in the primary election as they do in the presidential general election,” he said. “And with a small population and an even smaller proportion of the electorate, it’s harder to predict Latinos having a big impact in North Carolina’s primary.”
Aside from Florida, Illinois and North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri will also hold primaries on Tuesday, but have small populations of Latino voters. In Ohio, there are 199,000, or 2 percent of the state’s eligible voters. In Missouri, there are 107,000 Hispanic eligible voters, also 2 percent of those who can go to the polls. Latinos of Mexican origin make up the largest group of Latinos in both states.