Asian, Latino voters could change course of election

A large and growing, but underestimated, voter bloc of Asian and Latino immigrants could play a pivotal role in the presidential elections, which are often decided by very small voting margins, a report released Thursday said.

This increasingly influential group, who were 8.6 per cent of all registered voters in 2006, are described in the report as New Americans, comprised of naturalized Americans or those immigrants who have become US citizens, as well as immigrants' children born in the US after 1965, dpa reports.

The year 1965 signifies the beginning of the current era of massive immigration from Asia and Latin America.

"New Americans are growing seven times faster than the rest of the electorate," said Rob Paral, a contributor to the report. "Since the 1996 presidential elections, this population has grown about 64 per cent."

Their large numbers - there were 11.7 million New American registered voters in 2006 - and wide geographic spread mean they can play a critical role in the "battleground" states, where neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party has a decisive edge.

Immigrant communities can be found throughout the US. New American voters have the greatest electoral power in California, accounting for 24.4 per cent of all registered voters in 2006. In states like this they wield power as a mainstream voting group, not mere marginal players whose votes will count in a close race.

They comprise a significant share of registered voters in states such as Florida (14 per cent); Texas (9.3 per cent); Arizona (10.6 per cent); Illinois (10 per cent); Nevada (14.8 per cent); New Jersey (15.1 per cent) and New York (17.9 per cent). To get elected in these states, a candidate must obtain significant support from New Americans, the report said.

In Florida and Arizona, the percentage of registered New American voters is higher than the national average, Paral said.

"If New Americans vote as a bloc, they have the potential to swing elections," said report contributor Madura Wijewardena. "In Pennsylvania they now comprise 4.2 per cent of registered voters. In 2004 the election was carried in the state by 2 per cent - 150,000 votes."

Presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain have understood how important this vote is as immigration was a big issues in the primaries and the candidates continue to slug it out in Spanish advertisements, said Frank Sharry of America's Voice, a group that campaigns for immigration reform.

But immigration as an issue and New Americans as a group have since been consistently overlooked by the campaigns, mainstream press and policy makers," he said. "This represents the greatest story never told in this election."

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