- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More Hispanics than ever voted in the November 2010 election as a relatively young population reached the voting age, a fresh sign that the fastest growing U.S. minority stands as a formidable force in electoral politics.

A study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 6.6 million Hispanics, who mainly pick Democrats, voted in 2010, up from the 5.6 million who voted in the previous contests in 2006. As a share of the electorate, Hispanics made up 6.9 percent of the 96 million voters in 2010, up from 5.8 percent of the 96.1 million voters four years earlier. The center released its report Tuesday.

Among those record voters were 600,000 Hispanics who turned 18 each year between 2006 and 2010 as well as 1.4 million foreign-born adult Hispanics who became U.S. citizens and therefore eligible to vote, the center said.

“A lot of that growth is driven by U.S.-born young people who are coming of age and now (are) eligible to vote,” said Mark Lopez, Pew Hispanic Center associate director.

Republicans and Democrats are certain to factor the voting numbers in any political calculation as they look to the presidency in 2012, control of Congress and elections for decades to come. Strong Hispanic growth in the Southwest and West could make some states more fertile territory for Democrats.

According to exit polls, Hispanic voters are a solid Democratic constituency, breaking for President Obama by 36 percentage points in 2008 and for the Democratic candidate in their congressional district by 22 points in the 2010 contests. Republican resistance to looser immigration laws is a critical issue.

Hispanics accounted for more than half of the U.S. population increase over the last decade, exceeding estimates in most states and totaling 50 million. The population’s growth is attributed to births and immigration.

Still, voter turnout among Hispanics continues to lag far behind non-Hispanic whites and blacks.

Almost half of eligible white voters, 48.6 percent, and 44 percent of eligible black voters said they cast ballots in the 2010 elections. That compares to less than a third - 31.2 percent - of eligible Hispanic voters who said they voted. The difference between whites and Hispanics is similar to the gap in presidential elections, the center said.

Only 42 percent of the Hispanic population is eligible to vote, a smaller portion than any other major ethnic group. More than three-fourths of whites (77 percent) two-thirds of blacks (67.2 percent) and half of Asians (52.8 percent) are eligible to vote.

Among Hispanics who do go to the polls, college graduates had the highest turnout rate at 50.3 percent, while those 18 to 29 had the lowest at 17.6 percent.

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