California elections reflect historic national Latino turnout

150 150 Alexandra Bjerg

One of the newly elected Latino officials, Assemblymember-Elect Rudy Salas (D), of District 32

Over the last several election cycles much has been said about the potential impact of the Latino vote. Would 2012 be the year the sleeping giant, composed of roughly 24 million eligible Latino voters, awakes? Based on Tuesday’s preliminary results, the answer is a resounding yes. 

The 2012 presidential election has proven to be a historic one for both Latino voters and Latino candidates alike both statewide and nationwide. 

Although official results won’t be known for at least another month, exit polls show a record number of Hispanics turned up at the polls on Tuesday with 71 percent casting ballots in support of reelecting President Barack Obama. 

“2012 will go down as the first time in history that the Latino electorate determined, in essence, the president of the United States,” said Mike Madrid, California Forward consultant and Latino Republican Strategist, in an interview with KCAL 9

Strong turnout helped Latinos increase their share of the electorate in California to 22 percent, up four points from 2008.  In contrast, participation among non-Hispanic white voters across the state declined by eight points during the same period. 

As a result, not only did Latinos help determine the outcome of the presidential race, they impacted races down the ticket as well.  

An unprecedented 31 Latinos will serve in the 113th Congress, the largest number of whom hail from the Golden State.  California’s new congressional delegation includes four freshman Latino lawmakers, increasing the number of Latinos headed to Washington next year from six to nine. 

Across the country Latino candidates also made significant gains at the state legislature level.  Latinos will now serve in 36 state legislatures, with 70 serving as state senators and 206 serving in the state lower chamber. 

California, following only New Mexico, has elected the second largest number of Latino state lawmakers in the nation, 26. The California State Assembly welcomes 11 new Latino legislators, bumping up the total from 15 to 19, whereas the number of Latino State Senators decreased by one, down to seven.  

“We are pleased to see gains at the state legislature level for Latino candidates,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO Educational Fund and California Forward board member, in a statement. “As leaders on the front lines of their communities, Latino state legislators play a crucial role in addressing the issues that affect the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans.

But will these gains shift the focus of policy to issues important to the Hispanic community? Just days after the election, calls for comprehensive immigration reform on both sides of the aisle have already been sweeping the nation. 

This is the first election after the passage of term limit reform, Proposition 28. This means that the new batch of Latino California legislators could potentially serve 12 years in a single house, which proponents of the reform predict will give these new leaders the time and institutional knowledge needed to tackle long-term problems affecting their constituents, such as education, taxes, and immigration. 

Now that Latino voters have found their political voice, and impacted races at every level of government, they will certainly be expecting results. We will be watching to see how this powerful voting bloc cashes in their I.O.U. in Washington, Sacramento, and cites around the state. 


Alexandra Bjerg

All stories by: Alexandra Bjerg