June 13, 2012
Despite relentless mainstream media hype about the so called “crucial Hispanic vote,” two recently released studies immigration advocates prepared indicate that it won’t happen in 2012.
The reason is simple: Hispanic voter registrations aren’t keeping up with the demographics’ population growth. More important, Hispanic registration is down from its 2010 level. The recession has forced many to move; some have not bothered to re-register at their new addresses. Obviously, if you aren’t registered, you can’t vote.
Matt Baretto, a University of Washington associate political science professor who specializes in Latino voting patterns, calls the problem a “registration deficit.” Pointing to North Carolina and Virginia as prime examples, Baretto’s study titled Projecting Latino Electoral Influence in 2012 indicates that the Hispanic registration shortfall will delay if not threaten entirely its impact on election outcomes.
Baretto estimates that 70 percent of Latino voters back Barack Obama despite their disappointment over the president’s failure to enact his highly touted immigration reform legislation. That’s hardly a surprise since historically minority blocs vote Democratic. But Barletto emphasized that at the heart of the problem is that Hispanics can’t have an impact unless they vote. And they can’t vote unless they first register.
Of interest is the fact that the Hispanic percentage of eligible voters is highest (38 percent) in New Mexico with five electoral votes and lowest in Pennsylvania (3.5 percent) with 20 electoral votes. In other words, Pennsylvania as well as Ohio, Missouri and Washington, all with less than 10 percent Hispanic voters, are more important in the Electoral College’s final tally than New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada with totals 15 percent or higher.
Another study, this one by Gustavo Razzetti, the chief strategy and engagement officer at Los Angeles-based Grupo Gallegos, acknowledged the low Hispanic registration statistics. But Razzetti offered reasons for the decline. According to Razzetti, fear and apathy may be dampening Hispanic turnout.
Drawing from his more than 20 years experience analyzing U.S. and Latin American markets, Razzetti concluded that in many cases immigrants “not understanding how the system works and the fear to take time off of work” top the list of why they don’t become part of the political process.
While this may be a partial explanation, Razzetti’s further reasoning parallels my own theory that I have been advancing for two decades. Razzetti, carefully noting that he’s not making a “negative” observation, thinks that “Latinos don’t care” about the U.S. political process. For the most part, opines Razzetti, Hispanics feel that if they “don't believe that their vote will impact their everyday life, so why care to vote or to get citizenship?"
The underlying theme in the “crucial Hispanic vote” stories is that Latinos are angry at President Obama for failing to deliver on his multiple 2008 campaign pledges to pass comprehensive immigration reform or the DREAM Act. At the same time, Hispanics—so we’re told—don’t like Mitt Romney because he hasn’t been saying the right things about immigration, e.g., that open borders and more alien entitlements would be part of his administration. To make amends, the argument goes, Obama and Romney should start doubling down on their promises to immigrants.
But, as it happens, more immigration is of little interest to most Hispanics. In its survey, the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center found that immigration ranks seventh out of their eight priorities. Hispanics rank the economy, education, health care, national security and the environment ahead of immigration. Only energy ranks lower than immigration among immigrants as an important federal issue. Ethnic identity politics is a dangerous and often fatal game. Today, Americans are united by one common sentiment: they don’t like the direction the country is headed in. The best political policy is the one that advances Americans’ common good.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. His columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at email@example.com.