Immigrant Protestors Not Voters
Remember those huge protests of Hispanics protesting tougher immigration laws? It turns out that they’re not voters.
Immigration protests that drew hundreds of thousands of flag-waving demonstrators to the nation’s streets last spring promised a potent political legacy – a surge of new Hispanic voters. “Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote,” they proclaimed.
But an Associated Press review of voter registration figures from Chicago, Denver, Houston, Atlanta and other major urban areas that had large rallies found no sign of a new voter boom that could sway elections. There was a rise in Los Angeles, where 500,000 protested in March, but it was more of a trickle than a torrent.
Protest organizers – principally unions, Hispanic advocacy groups and the Catholic Church – acknowledge that it has been hard to translate street activism into voting clout, though they insist they can reach their goal of 1 million new voters by 2008. “I was anticipating a huge jump in registration. I didn’t see it,” said Jess Cervantes, a veteran California political operative whose company analyzes Hispanic voting trends. “When you have an emotional response, it takes time to evolve.”
The fact that some significant percentage of the protestors were illegal aliens and thus not eligible to vote likely explains much of this. Mostly, though, those who didn’t bother to vote in the last presidential election are unlikely to vote in the midterms. (That’s why legitimate pollsters screen for likely voters when doing election surveys.)
Hispanic voters are a pivotal voting bloc, especially with their numbers projected to continue to grow. But they have long voted in numbers far below their share of the population, in part because many are under 18 or not U.S. citizens. A study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that while Hispanics accounted for half the nation’s population growth between the 2000 and 2004 elections, they represented only one-tenth of the increase in votes cast.
The lack of political experience helps explain why the flow of new registrations has been halting. Some activists acknowledge that their groups have yet to master the nuances of voter registration drives – typically a face-to-face task more complex than mobilizing a march. Others complain that political parties with the most to gain haven’t financed registration efforts. “Until the money is spent, ‘Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote’ will always just be a slogan,” said Nativo Lopez, president of the California-based Mexican-American Political Association. “A million new registrations would cost about $10 million. Is anybody willing to pay that? I haven’t seen it,” Lopez said.
What’s more, no galvanizing leader of the immigrant-rights movement has emerged, and the largest pool of potential voters – young people – tends to be the hardest to reach.
One would think that those with the wherewithal to rally half a million folks to march around with signs could finance voter registration drives. Apparently, though, they’re simply different kettles of fish.