NASHUA, N.H. -- Despite a growing pool of potential Hispanic voters in the United States, driven largely by young people, Latinos are likely to be underrepresented at the polls in 2016, a study released Tuesday has found.
The Pew Research Center found that a record number of Hispanic voters could head to the polls in November, topping the 11.2 million who voted in 2012, but that Hispanic millennials - who are driving growth in the population of Hispanic eligible voters-will keep turnout low. A majority of Hispanics, 52 percent, are too young to vote or are not U.S. citizens.
The findings come from an analysis of Census Bureau data reviewed by the respected Pew Research Center.
Only 48 percent of eligible Hispanic voters cast a ballot in 2012, compared to 64 percent of white voters and 67 percent of black eligible voters. That figure was even less for eligible Hispanic millennial voters, with only 38 percent casting a ballot in 2012, the report found.
Mark Lopez, Pew's director of Hispanic research, said the low turnout is largely driven by geography. He said more than half of the nation's eligible Hispanic voters, about 52 percent, are in California, Texas and New York - none of which are battleground states that can sway an election.
"Hispanic voters in these states won't get as much attention, won't see as many campaign ads, as those in the battleground states of Florida, Nevada and Colorado," said Lopez, who noted that Hispanics comprise 14 percent of all voters in each of those states.
In other potential competitive states in the presidential race, including Virginia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Hispanic voters make up less than five percent of all voters. That's also true in the early voting and influential states of Iowa (2.9 percent) and New Hampshire (2.1 percent), where Hispanic voters represent less than three percent of all voters.
In its focus on young voters, the report found that Hispanic millennials register to vote at lower rates than other millennials. It noted that 50 percent of Hispanic millennial eligible voters said they were registered to vote in 2012, compared with 61 percent among white millennials and 64 percent among black millennials.
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The low turnout, said Lopez, could represent an opportunity for a group or candidate who can target these voters with a registration drive.
Many candidates recognize this potential and have seized on it. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio's campaign released an ad on YouTube Tuesday directed at all millennials. The ad features several young people talking about their support for the 44-year-old Florida senator, who speaks often about the need for "a new generation of leadership in Washington."
Voter turnout among all Hispanics has been historically low. In 2012, a record 11.2 million Hispanics voted, but 12.1 million did not vote.
Still, voter eligibility is on the rise among Hispanics overall, especially those born in 1981 or later. Pew researchers say this group could be the main force driving growth among Hispanic voters for the next two decades. More than 800,000 Latinos become eligible to vote each year, an overwhelming majority of whom are U.S.-born.
Millennials account for nearly half, or 44 percent, of this year's record 27 million eligible Hispanic voters - "a share greater than any other racial or ethnic group of voters," Pew said.
"The large footprint of Latino millennial voters reflects the oversized importance of youth in the U.S.-born Latino population," says the report.
Pew researchers predict Hispanic voters-as a percentage of all voters-will grow to nearly 12 percent this year, pulling almost even with black voters, who comprise about 12.4 percent of all voters nationwide.