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.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Or, alternatively, an enormous proportion aren’t here legally and, absent an amnesty, aren’t on the track to citizenship.

  2. Given the large number of people at the marches, either Lopez doesn’t understand basic management skills or a lot of the $10 million would end up in his pockets. You get voter registration cards from the state. You buy a bunch of cheap pens. You get a few volunteers to hand out pens and voter registration as the potential new voters march past. Of course if the majority of your marches are here illegally and don’t like the idea of filling out personal information on a government form, you may not hit your 1 million number. But then, you never would if that is your base of support.

  3. At another rally, Lopez was called by someone else an “EthnoGrifter”.

    My name’s link leads to a bit more on one of the organizations that is leading a voter drive in Chicago. They’re also linked to Blago and they were involved in a smear against JimOberweis.

  4. silverfish says:

    The fact that some significant percentage of the protestors were illegal aliens

    What was the percentage? I have been wondering about this myself and would like to see some reasonably reliable estimates, otherwise we are all just guessing.

    those who didn’t bother to vote in the last presidential election are unlikely to vote in the midterms.

    And this makes them exactly like the majority of Americans 😉

  5. Ursula says:

    Well I suspect this issue my galvanize some non-voters to get out there and vote.

  6. LaurenceB says:

    Ummm… It’s not just illegal immigrants that cannot vote – it’s the legal ones too. At least those who are not yet citizens.

    That should be obvious, but like so many things in the immigration debate, I guess its not. I just thought I’d point it out.

    Since the overwhelming majority of the protestors were probably first-generation immigrants (legal or illegal) it doesn’t surprise me much that they aren’t registering to vote. I suspect that will change in precisely one generation. At least I hope it does – these people need a voice and some representation badly.