By Joe Holley, Houston Chronicle
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau‘s Current Population Survey, Hispanic voter registration dropped from 11.6 million in 2008 to 10.9 million in 2010. Voter registration typically declines in off-year elections, but a decrease of more than half a million voters is a significant interruption of a long-term trend.
Predictions that 2012 could be a political tipping point for the nation’s fastest-growing population group have all but faded, even as candidates from both major parties are recognizing the potential significance of the Hispanic vote simply because of its sheer size.
“It’s very disturbing,” said Antonio Gonzalez, who heads the San Antonio-based William C. Velasquez Institute and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. “Frankly, you haven’t had a loss of 600,000 voters ever. It’s a very bad sign.”
Recession to blame?
In Texas, which added 2.8 million Hispanics during the past decade, the number of registered Hispanic voters declined from 2.4 million to 2.3 million between 2008 and 2010. California, Nevada, Florida, Washington, New Mexico, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania – states with large Hispanic populations – also experienced “significant declines” in the number of registered Hispanic voters.
“We believe that the recession and mortgage foreclosure crisis explains this decline,” Gonzalez said. “It hit blacks and Latinos and the lower-middle-class people first. When people lose their jobs or homes, they usually have to move elsewhere. When you move, you have to re-register, and we suspect that didn’t happen in 2009-10.
“The law of unintended consequences is at work here,” he added. “This administration, like the last one, didn’t have an answer for home foreclosures. The unintended consequence is a dampening of Latino voter turnout.”
Birth rate declining
Hispanic voters also are a very young population, and young people, whatever their ethnic group, are less involved in the electoral process. Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, points out that more than a third of Hispanics (34.9 percent) are younger than the voting age of 18 and nearly a third of eligible Hispanic voters are under 30. Among young voters, Lopez notes, “Latinos had some of the lowest voter participation rates – in 2010, just 17.6 percent of young Latino eligible voters voted.”
“Across the country, there’s fairly good evidence of a decline in the Hispanic birth rate,” he said. “Plus, there’s been a decline somewhat in migration rates. Whether those factors have to do with the economy or whether they have more of a long-term impact, we just don’t know yet.”
Another possibility, Murdock said, is dissatisfaction with the Obama administration.
“Some Hispanics don’t necessarily feel terribly well supported by the Obama people,” he said. “Not that they want to vote Republican, but they’ve noticed the lack of any progress on immigration reform, and they’re aware that the Obama administration has deported more people than the Bush administration.”
‘What’s the point?
Houston attorney Linda Vega, founder of Latinos Ready to Vote, one of the few conservative groups working to register Texas voters, agreed with Murdock. Hispanics are disappointed in the Obama administration and shocked by the harsh views expressed by Republican presidential candidates, she said. The result is apathy and low voter turnout.
Vega, who conducts monthly citizenship forums in conjunction with Mayor Annise Parker‘s office, said she often hears “What’s the point?” when she encourages fledgling citizens to register to vote.
Even if the Hispanic vote grows normally for a presidential cycle, it will increase to only about 12-13 million for the November election, far below earlier projections of 14-15 million registered Hispanic voters.
The solution, Gonzalez observed, is not new: Get people registered. Sustained, well-financed registration efforts should be a priority, not only for the major political parties, Gonzalez said, but also for Latino groups and organizations.
“The Latino leadership needs to invest in their own states,” Gonzalez said. “Texas is a wealthy state. Texans need to be building up voter participation in their own state.”
This articles was published by the Houston Chron on Monday 4/2/2012