From Krissah Thompson of the Washington Post comes the news that the number of black and Hispanic registered voters has fallen sharply since November 2008. That’s not hugely suprising; those numbers usually do decline between presidential elections, and the number of white registered voters tends to decline too. People move around, and young people are especially transient. You won’t find the undergraduates of 2008 in the same dorms or campus area apartments where they were registered to vote four years ago. Many of them may be living in their parents’ basements, where they won’t show up on any list of renters or homeowners.
What’s really notable here is that the number of registered Hispanics has declined significantly, and contrary to predictions. Thompson cites a Census Bureau estimate that the number of registered Hispanics between 2008 and 2010 declined by 5%, to 11 million, but also a Census estimate that the number of registered Hispanics decreased by 2 million from 2008 to late 2010, which is a lot more than 5%. In any case, extrapolating from the exit poll, about 10.5 million Hispanics voted in 2008, favoring Barack Obama over John McCain by a 61%-37% margin. That’s about a 2.5 million vote margin, one-quarter of Obama’s 10 million popular vote margin nationally. Obviously the Obama campaign would like to see similar results this year and is embarking on a major drive to register Hispanic voters.
Analysts have been projecting that the number of Hispanics voting and registered to vote would increase indefinitely. The sources cited by the Post suggest that isn’t happening. I think this may be part of a larger pattern. In my April 25 Examiner column I looked at the Pew Hispanic Center’s recent report concluding that there was no net migration from Mexico in the years from 2005 to 2010. Since it’s pretty clear that there was net migration into the United States from Mexico during the first two years of this period, it’s apparent that we saw net outmigration from the U.S. in 2007-10. And, given the sluggish economic recovery, with nothing like the number of construction and hospitality jobs we used to have, I suspect that that is also true for 2010-12, although we’ll have to wait on the compilation of statistics to see. So the decline in Hispanic registration may reflect a decline in Hispanic population (Mexicans account for about 60% of Hispanic immigrants).
This could pose a real problem for the Obama campaign. More than half of all foreclosures in the recession period of 2007-09 were in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida, and looking at the geographical patterns I estimate that about one-third of these involved Hispanics. The quotas imposed by the Community Reinvestment Act and the policies of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac encouraged the granting of mortgages to “minorities,” and I’m sure there were plenty of scam operations grinding out mortgages to Hispanics in California’s Inland Empire and Central Valley and in metro Las Vegas, Phoenix, Orlando and Miami. Cash income from construction jobs and no W-2? Hey, no problem, here’s a $350,000 no down payment mortgage, which we’ll just offload the mortgage onto Fannie Mae or someone and get points for our concern for minorities. When the construction work dried up, such mortgages went bad, and many of the erstwhile homeowners just disappeared. Some of these people registered (or were registered) to vote, but the Obama campaign will have a hard time tracking them down. Some may have gone back to Mexico. And Hispanics tend to have relatively few last names, which makes them hard to follow. I once looked at a Mexico City phone book and found columns and columns of listings for “Jose Gonzalez Garcia.”
Were some of these registered voters illegal immigrants? I wouldn’t be surprised. Certainly the California authorities are not interested in keeping illegals off the voter rolls. The Pew Hispanic Center says the number of illegal Mexican immigrants declined from 6.9 million to 6.0 million in 2005-10. The number has probably declined further since. And even assuming that no registered voters were illegal, it looks like the Obama campaign has a small reservoir of unregistered U.S. citizen Hispanics to target in their reelection drive.
There’s another point to be made here. If conditions in the U.S. are so bad for Hispanics that many are prompted to return to their country of origin, what does this say about the assessment of those who remain of the performance of the Obama administration?