Is Time Magazine Right that Latinos Will Decide this Year’s Election?

This week’s cover story on Time Magazine argues that Latinos will choose the next president in 2012. One of the core reasons offered is that Latinos comprise sizeable minorities in key battleground states like Nevada, Arizona and Florida. I use the official Federal Commission report and US census data to explore whether Latinos are indeed more prevalent in swing states, and if so, whether they make up a large enough population to swing the election.

I use a two sample t-test to evaluate the theory that battleground states have a greater share of Latinos. I define a battleground state as one in which the victor of the 2008 presidential election won by no more than 10 percentage points. For example, California is a non-battleground state by this definition because Obama won 61% of the vote while McCain won 37%, resulting in a 24 percentage point margin of victory. This 10% threshold results in a group of 15 battleground states. The average percent Hispanic within this group of battleground states is 6.2% while the average percent Hispanic within non-battleground states is actually higher at 8.5%. This means that Time Magazine had it backwards—non-battleground states if anything have greater proportions of Hispanics. Nevertheless, the t-test finds no statistically significant difference between swing versus non-swing states.

Even if swing states have smaller proportions of Hispanics, it is still possible that Hispanic voters in these states are numerous enough to tip the scales in one candidate’s favor. At an average of 6.2%, however, it would appear that Hispanic voters are numerous enough to be pivotal in roughly only half of the swing states. It shouldn’t surprise us that Time was perhaps a bit sensationalist and premature in proclaiming Latinos’ ability to determine the election outcome.

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