Whither the Hispanic vote?
posted at 7:01 pm on May 5, 2012 by Karl
Ronald Brownstein asks whether Hispanic immigration trends will hurt Obama in 2012, and comes up with the relatively obvious answer that they will not, as new immigrants are a tiny part of the electorate in any given year. The so-called experts agree that immigration trends are a longer-term issue (though we should note that at least one of the so-called experts quoted by Brownstein was late to notice that immigration from Mexico is drying up). Some will be concerned that illegal immigration from Mexico will rise again when the US economy recovers. However, as Michael Barone notes, Mexico’s population growth has slowed way down and Mexico has had a stronger economic recovery from the global recession than the US experienced. The more cheeky might suggest Brownstein’s question is backward: Obama hurt immigration more than immigration hurts Obama.
Nevertheless, Brownstein’s article ends up noting the more interesting medium-term questions involve younger and future generations of Hispanics already here and automatically eligible to vote. Democrats rely on straight-line projections of growth in this demographic as part of their Emerging Democratic Majority theory. However, as Steve Malanga suggested after the 2008 election, the economy is a big part of the Hispanic vote, just like it is to everyone else:
Why has the GOP been unable to make more headway among Hispanics? One answer has to do with income. As political scientist Andrew Gelman notes in his new book, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, lower-income voters continue to vote disproportionately Democratic, despite a popular notion among pundits that many of them have shifted to the GOP for cultural reasons. That fact suggests that Hispanics—nearly half of whom live in households whose earnings fall in the country’s bottom two income quintiles—would naturally trend Democratic. And in fact, in the McCain-Obama contest, 83 percent of Hispanic voters with annual incomes of $15,000 or less voted for Obama, as did 71 percent of those earning between $15,000 and $30,000. By contrast, 51 percent of those with household incomes between $150,000 and $200,000 voted for McCain.
Sean Trende makes a similar point in his recent book, The Lost Majority, while also noting that if the Democrats decide to pander heavily to Hispanics on issues like immigration, they risk losses among other groups.
The latest data crunched by the Pew Hispanic Center suggests successive generations of Hispanic youth are catching up economically. Indeed, later generations are already marginally more likely to identify themselves as Americans first (and even more likely to identify as white). A pause in illegal immigration may allow for even swifter assimilation. That would be good for America generally and Hispanics in particular, but perhaps much less good for the Democratic Party.
As for the short-term, Brownstein reports that while there will be 22-24 million Hispanics eligible to vote this year:
Hispanic registration is not keeping pace. The number of Hispanics registered to vote grew from 9.3 to 11.6 million from 2004 to 2008. But in 2010, Hispanic registrations declined to 10.9 million, according to Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, which studies Hispanic political participation.
At one point, Gonzalez predicted that 12 million Hispanics would vote in 2012, up from just under 10 million in 2008 and about 7.6 million in 2004. Now he thinks it unlikely to reach such a peak. While there will be a “surge” in Hispanic voter registration this year, Gonzalez says, it will begin from the depressed level it reached after 2010. And that ultimately will yield a harvest of around 11 million Hispanic voters this fall, and possibly less, he says. Concerted registration and turnout efforts from Democrats likely will enlarge Hispanic participation in a few key states, especially Southwestern states like Arizona and Nevada, but unless something changes, Gonzalez predicts, “We won’t be turbocharged as a national electorate.”
Again, less than ideal for the Democrats.
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