While President Bush and Sen. John Kerry have set up aggressive campaigns to draw Hispanic voters, the nation’s largest minority bloc is unlikely to play a decisive role in the 2004 presidential election, based on their past voting records and their populations in battleground states.
Although election analysts predict more than 7 million of the nation’s 40 million Hispanics will vote on Election Day, the bloc represents 7 percent or higher in just five battleground states: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida.
‘This race will be determined primarily by white voters,’ said Bill Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution think tank, who has analyzed Hispanic voting data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.
As evidence he offers these statistics: One-third of Hispanics are below voting age, and another quarter are not citizens. Thus, for every 100 Hispanics, only 40 are eligible to vote, 23 are likely to register, and just 18 are likely to cast ballots. For blacks the comparable number is 37, and for whites, nearly 50.
Mr. Frey has determined that white voters make up 86 percent of all voters in the most competitive states.
‘The Hispanic vote is going to be a lot less important than people think. This election is going to be won in the Midwest, largely white, battleground states,’ he said.
In the biggest battleground states—Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa, West Virginia—the percentage of Hispanic voters ranges from just 0.4 percent in West Virginia to a high of 1.5 percent in Pennsylvania.
But Adam Segal of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University expects the voting bloc to play a significant role this election.
‘I think we’ll see an historic turnout among this community,’ he said. ‘When both the candidates are saying it, it’s got to be true because they don’t just make that up.’
Both campaigns are indeed making major efforts to increase their take of the Hispanic vote.
The Kerry campaign announced a new outreach effort—dubbed Una Nueva Esperanza (A New Hope)—that will include a tour of the battleground states of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado with Hispanic members of Congress.
The president, who held a White House reception Wednesday to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, earlier this month said himself in a Spanish-language ad targeted at Hispanics that ‘We all know that the Latino vote will be the deciding factor in this presidential election.’
Mr. Bush did fairly well among Hispanics in 2000, although former Vice President Al Gore took the lion’s share of the vote, beating the Republican by a margin of 67 percent to 31 percent.
But at least one top Republican with ties to the White House agreed with Mr. Frey’s assessment that the power of the Hispanic vote has been overblown.
‘We know it’s important, but it won’t decide the election,’ the official said. ‘We’ve got to walk a tightrope of seeking the Hispanic vote, but also putting most of our effort into different channels.’
For his part, Mr. Frey said focusing on Hispanics this year is premature—and off target.
‘Their percentage of the population largely overstates the percentage of Hispanics who are actually going to be part of the voters in those [battlegrounds] states,’ Mr. Frey said.
Still, he acknowledges that New Mexico is a special case. With a Hispanic voter population topping 29 percent, the bloc will have an effect on the presidential election.
But states with newly relocated Hispanic populations—such as Arizona, with 11.5 percent, and Nevada, with 7.4 percent—likely will have little effect.
‘In both of those states, a disproportionate number of those Hispanic are not registered or not voting,’ Mr. Frey said. He has found that Hispanics account for 29 percent of Arizona’s population, but just an estimated 12 percent of its voters. In Nevada the figures are 23 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
Even Mr. Segal agreed with some of the conclusions by Mr. Frey and acknowledged that ‘the vast majority’ of Hispanics will not play a decisive role in the election. Still, he insisted that a small group in key states will play a crucial role in November.
But Mr. Frey said this will not be the Year of the Hispanic Voter.
‘The time for Hispanics to have their big role is probably in the 2012 election,’ he said.
By then, many more Hispanics will be citizens and will be registered and interested in voting. And by then, the states that are gaining Hispanics, especially in the West, will have bigger electoral vote counts because it will be after the 2010 census.