The Hispanic Vote in the Upcoming 2010 Elections

Steven A. Camarota and Ashley Monique Webster, Center for Immigration Studies, October 2010

Some commentators have argued that the failure of Congress to pass “comprehensive immigration reform,” coupled with Arizona’s new enforcement efforts, will increase Hispanic turnout in the upcoming midterm elections. More recently, others have argued that these same issues will dampen Hispanic turnout. This Memorandum provides a means for evaluating these arguments by examining the Hispanic voting trends in past midterm elections and projecting what their turnout might be next week based on data from the Census Bureau. Once the election is over, the extent to which Hispanic turnout follows or deviates from past patterns can be used to evaluate if this was an unusual election with regard to Hispanics.

Among the findings:

* On average, 31.8 percent of Hispanic citizens (18+) voted in the 2002 and 2006 midterm elections, compared to 48 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 42 percent of non-Hispanic blacks.

* The extent to which Hispanics differ from the historical average (31.8 percent ± 1.7), will be an indication of how energized they were in 2010.

* Polling of Hispanics indicates that immigration is not one of their most important issues.

* Only 28.2 percent of Hispanic voters in the 2008 election were immigrants themselves. Moreover, just 14.3 percent of Hispanic voters in 2008 lived in the same household as a non-citizen.

* The lack of direct personal experience with immigration may explain why the issue does not rank higher in importance to Hispanic voters.

* Based on past patterns, we project that Hispanics will comprise 6.8 percent of the electorate in November 2010. This is a reduction from 7.4 percent in the 2008 presidential election, but is an increase from 5.8 percent in the last off-year election in 2006.

* The Hispanic share of the overall vote in 2010 is a more indirect measure of their enthusiasm because it partly depends on turnout among other groups. If Hispanic participation is average, but participation among non-Hispanic is above average, then the Hispanic share of the vote will be smaller even though their turnout was not unusually low.

* We project that Hispanics in November 2010 will comprise 14 percent of the total adult (18+) population and 9.3 percent of the adult citizen population.

* Hispanics comprise a much smaller percentage of voters than they do of the overall adult population because a large share (37.7 percent) of adult Hispanics are not citizens. Also Hispanic citizens register and vote at somewhat lower rates than other groups.

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The Hispanic Vote in 2010

{snip} Erin Pangilinan, a prominent blogger for the progressive website Change.org, suggests that Democrats should be worried about midterm elections given a large Latino voter block that has the potential to decide the outcome in many swing states that helped carry Obama in the 2008 Presidential election.2 Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer has argued that, “The projected turnout among Hispanics is not high: There is disappointment in the Obama administration, and disillusionment with the economy.”3

Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, a center-left think tank, thinks that “the Latino vote in 2010 will still be overwhelmingly Democratic, but it will be a smaller share of the electorate than in the last two elections.”4 The New York Times, citing a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll argued that Latino turnout is likely to lag given that only 51 percent of Latino registered voters said they would absolutely go to the polls, compared with 70 percent of all registered voters.5

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Hispanic Turnout in Past Elections

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The Immigration Issue. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll cited above found that Hispanic voters ranked immigration fifth in importance after education, jobs, healthcare, and the federal deficit. As Mark Lopez of the Hispanic Center points out: “Immigration does not rank as a top voting issue for Hispanics.”8 A Zogby poll from February of this year found that when asked if they favored enforcement and illegal immigrants going home or putting illegals on a path to citizenship, 52 percent of Hispanic likely voters favored enforcement, and just 32 percent favored citizenship.9 The fact that immigration is not a top issue for Hispanics and that pro-enforcement views are common defies the stereotypes of this population. This does not mean that immigration is completely unimportant to Hispanics. The Zogby poll found that Hispanics are more favorable toward amnesty for illegal immigrants than is the general public. What these results do mean is that other issues matter more than immigration and Hispanic views on the issue do not fit the stereotype often ascribed to them.

This is not surprising when one considers that only 28.2 percent of Hispanic voters in the 2008 election were immigrants themselves. The overwhelming majority of Hispanic voters were born in this country. Second, in 2008, only 14.3 of Hispanic voters lived in the same household as a non-citizen.10 It is the non-citizen population that has the most direct interest in changing the nation’s immigration system because it includes illegal immigrants and others on temporary visas who might like to stay permanently, but cannot do so under the current system. In the Current Population Survey, about half of non-citizens are illegal immigrants. The large share of Hispanic voters who do not have a direct personal experience with immigration may help explain why the issue often ranks relatively low in importance for this population.

Conclusion

This report establishes a baseline for judging how engaged Hispanics will be this election cycle. Prior voting trends indicate that about one-third of eligible Hispanic voters participate in midterm elections. The extent to which the Hispanic vote differs from the expected pattern can be taken as an indication of how engaged they are this election cycle. Although immigration is of concern to Hispanic voters, prior research indicates that it is not one of their top concerns. It must be remembered that the vast majority of Hispanic voters are not immigrants themselves. Thus, it seems unlikely that this issue by itself will cause Hispanic turnout to be particularly high or low in the election next week. Once data are available from the November 2010 CPS, however, this question will be answered.

End Notes

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