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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Sure, Hispanics Are Important, But You’ve Still Got to Do Most of Your Hunting Where Most of the Ducks Are

The Pew Hispanic Center has just released a very useful, data-rich report, “Hispanics and the 2004 Election: Population, Electorate and Voters“. Among other things, the report concludes, as I have, that the 58-40 Kerry-Bush split among Hispanics in the combined state exit polls is much more plausible than the 53-44 split in the national exit poll. To support this view, they note that the demographics of the Hispanic voter sample in the combined state polls matches up well with the demographics of the 2004 Census Voter Supplement Hispanic sample. The demographics of the national exit poll Hispanic sample, on the other hand, match up rather poorly with the Census data. (For an explanation of what the Census Voter Supplement data is and why we should take its demographic information quite seriously, see my recent comments on the release of the 2004 Voter Supplement data.)
The report also notes that all of the shift toward Bush among Hispanics from 2000 to 2004 occurred among Protestants. Hispanic Catholics didn’t waver in their Democratic loyalties.
The focus of the report, however, is not on partisan Hispanic voting patterns, but rather the Hispanic vote as a whole and how rapidly it is growing. Their answer, in brief, is: not as rapidly as you think, especially in comparison to the overall growth of the Hispanic population. Here are their key findings:

Between the 2000 and 2004 elections, the Hispanic population grew by 5.7 million, accounting for half of the increase in the U.S. population of 11.5 million.
Of those 5.7 million Hispanics added to the U.S. population between the last two presidential elections, 1.7 million persons or 30 percent were less than 18 years old and are thus not eligible to vote. Another 1.9 million or 33 percent of the people added to the Hispanic population between the two elections were adults not eligible to vote because they were not citizens.
As a result of these factors, only 39 percent of the Latino population was eligible to vote compared to 76 percent of whites and 65 percent of the black population.
Both the number of Latinos registered to vote (9.3 million) and the number of Latinos who cast ballots (7.6 million) in November 2004 marked increases of political participation over the 2000 election that were larger than for any other ethnic or racial group in percentage terms.
However, both registration and turnout rates for Latinos were lower than for whites or blacks. As a result, only 47 percent of eligible Hispanics went to the polls compared to 67 percent of whites and 60 percent of blacks. Differences in registration rates explain most of the gaps.
The combination of demographic factors and participation rates meant that only 18 percent of the Latino population voted in 2004 compared to 51 percent of whites and 39 percent of blacks.
In November 2004, Hispanics were 14.3 percent of the total population but only 6.0 percent of the votes cast. In the previous election, Hispanics were 12.8 percent of the population and 5.5 percent of the votes cast.

These interesting data serve to remind us of an important fact. While the Hispanic population is indeed growing fast, the Hispanic vote still lags far, far behind the white vote in terms of political importance and that is not going to change anytime soon. Therefore, even if the Hispanic vote turns back towards the Democrats in the 2006 and 2008 elections, as I believe is likely, the Democrats will not make much progress without moving the white vote, particularly the white working class vote, away from the Republicans.
Indeed, it would greatly serve GOP interests for Democrats to focus their worries and energies on the Hispanic vote, while conceding GOP dominance over the white vote. That’s still where most of the ducks are and where most of the Democratic hunting should be, if they hope to break the GOP hold on Congress and the Presidency.