“In general, when you add up the balance sheet on electoral expenditures, voter registration is a minimal part of that equation---even though it is critical to sustaining our democracy,” said Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, director of immigration and civic engagement at the National Council of La Raza. “For the Latino community, where you have a lot of people coming of age, that’s extremely problematic.”
Looking ahead to 2012, Latino Decisions predicts a registration gap of over 8 million citizens who need to be registered; NCLR predicts 9.6 million. If Gonzalez’ numbers are correct, the gap may be even greater.
It’s obvious that Hispanic turnout rises when advocates invest in registration and politicians invest in outreach, Camarillo said. Just look at the Hispanic mobilization that helped save Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Nevada seat in 2010.
“If you don’t expect Hispanics in other states, like Colorado and Nevada, to turn out without resources, why do you expect Hispanics in Texas to do that?” Camarillo asked.
There’s also an X factor, analysts and advocates say: the presence, of absence, of anti-immigrant rhetoric from Republicans at the local and national level.
One outlier in Gonzalez’sdata? Arizona gained 200,000 registered voters. The recent mobilization of Arizona’s Hispanic community, analysts say, is tied to anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation in the state.
It’s the same pattern that mobilized California’s Hispanics in the 1990s, Gonzalez said. “Frankly, the Democrats were the beneficiaries of a catastrophic short-term Republican strategic blunder,” he said of California.
Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum did little to ingratiate themselves with Hispanic voters when they called for tougher immigration enforcement while debating in Arizona last month, analysts say. The Obama for America campaign has a video on its website that highlights former Massachusetts Governor Romney’s opposition to the Dream ACT.
But Obama’s failure to pass the Dream Act—despite Democratic control of both houses of Congress—and the record number of deportations under his administration has soured the Hispanic community on the candidate they backed in 2008, advocates say.
Linda Vega, a Houston lawyer and the founder of Latinos Ready to Vote, heads one of the few conservative groups working to register Hispanic voters in Texas. Vega contends that apathy and low turnout, rather than low registration rates, are the real problem facing the Hispanic community. Another problem she sees is confusion.
“They show disappointment in the Obama administration. They feel they have been lied to, let down,” Vega said. “With the Republicans, they are shocked. Bush never spoke that way. Nor did Governor Perry,” she said, referring to the primary season’s escalation of anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The president might have his work cut out for him, Vega said, particularly as he has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform and has increased the number of deportations.
“He really expects the Hispanic community to come out and vote for him,” Vega said. “I think he might be shocked.”