Washington, DC - As the Latino population in the United States rises, the demographic shift will affect future as well as current voting habits, and therefore election outcomes, according to several experts.
In the highly competitive upcoming presidential elections, "a couple hundred of Latino voters can make a difference," Roberto Suro, director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at University of Southern California, said on Monday. The impact is especially significant in battleground states such as Florida, which holds 29 electoral votes, and where 22.9 per cent of the populace is Latino.
The Hispanic and Latino population in the United States is projected to more than double by 2050 and will account for 24 per cent of the future population - more than 102 million people - according to the US Census Bureau.
US citizens have long been predominantly white and of European descent. However, 2012 marked the first time that minorities - such as Latinos and black people - have outnumbered the majority in the US.
Rising Latino voting populace
According to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the rising Latino voting populace "solidifies this emerging electorate as an important voting bloc among US voters". Every month, an estimated 50,000 Latinos in the United States turn 18 and thus are legally allowed to vote in the country.
A record number of Latinos voted in the 2008 presidential election, where 9.7 million Latino voters cast ballots - in a marked increase from the 7.6 million who voted in 2004.
Yet the voting bloc represents only a small percentage of potential voters in the Latino demographic. According to a US Census Bureau finding on voting patterns, 50 per cent of Latinos did not vote in 2008 - and 40 per cent of Latinos were not even registered to vote.
Nevertheless, the Latino population might be the deciding factor in this year's elections. Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, an organisation focused on immigration reform, called the Latino influence in the election "the whisker that wags the dog".
In 2010, three Latino candidates, all Republican, ran for and won political offices. In Nevada, Brian Sandoval became the state's first Hispanic governor. In New Mexico, Susana Martinez became the first Latina governor in US history, and in Florida, Marco Rubio won a US Senate seat.
One of the most intriguing candidates in this election cycle has been Rubio, who has been named as a potential - though unlikely - candidate for vice-president on the Republican ticket with Mitt Romney, the party's presumptive nominee.
"It brought light to his biggest plus, which is that he could bring some (Latinos) under his tent," Manuel Roig-Franzia, author of The Rise of Marco Rubio, said of Republicans' vetting of the Florida senator, at a panel discussion at the New America Foundation.
The issue of deportation
Despite the fact that all three of the winning Latino candidates for office were Republicans, Latino voters generally tend to vote for Democratic candidates. According to exit polls conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2010, 60 per cent of Latino voters supported Democratic candidates in House races, while 38 per cent supported Republican candidates.
In the 2008 presidential election, Latinos supported President Barack Obama by a margin of more than two to one - 67 per cent to 31 per cent - over his Republican challenger John McCain, according to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut.
This elections cycle, however, has brought about a different set of circumstances that do not guarantee Latinos will vote according to past practices. With the economy and unemployment paramount in this year's election, naturally the Latino population is far from exempt from political plays.
According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the unemployment rate among Hispanics and Latinos is 11 per cent, according to June statistics, which is noticeably higher than the national average of 8.2 per cent.
Another prickly issue regarding the Latino population is the issue of deportation. President Obama addressed a less contentious part of the deportation issue earlier in 2012, a move that earned him a mixture of both praise for his efforts to push for immigration reform as well as criticism for what some considered a political manoeuvre.
However, the Obama administration has reportedly deported more people than the Bush administration. According to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, the United States deported nearly 400,000 "illegal immigrants" in the 2011 fiscal year - the highest total ever.
A version of this article previously appeared on IPS.