Hispanic Mid-Term Falloff

While I’ve written a lot about the “mid-term falloff” problem among Democratic-leaning demographic groups, I probably haven’t given enough emphasis to the varying falloff rates of different groups. African-Americans tend to participate at rates not immensely lower than white voters, and at some times and in some places (e.g., the Deep South in 1998) have bucked the falloff “rule” entirely.

Hispanics are a different matter, as documented by a new Pew study earlier this week. In 1986, the percentage of eligible Hispanic voters who turned out was 38%, as opposed to 46% of African-Americans and 51% of whites. By 1994, the gap between Hispanic and white turnout figures had increased to 17% (34% versus 51%), where it has almost exactly remained through 2010 (when Hispanic turnout was down to 31%, while white turnout was just under 49%).

The erosion of Hispanic turnout has been obscured, of course, by the steady growth of the eligible Hispanic voting population.

Now if you ask the average pundit about current or prospective Hispanic turnout problems, he or she will probably start talking about “discouragement’ over immigration legislation or conflicts between liberal economic views and conservative cultural views, or even language issues, and so on and so forth. But Pew points out one huge factor you don’t hear much about:

The relative youth of the Hispanic electorate has helped drive down the group’s overall turnout. In 2010, 31% of Hispanic eligible voters were under 30. By contrast, 19% of white, 26% of black and 21% of Asian eligible voters were under 30.

As noted here recently, under-30 voters are conspicuously and consistently prone to midterm falloff, for reasons that appear to have more to do with life status (particularly high geographical mobility and a generally low level of civil engagement) than with the issue landscape or the standing of this or that president or this or that party. So shouting “messages” at them via network television ads they mostly will not see doesn’t seem the most fruitful way to deal with the problem.

There is some potential turnout improvement associated with old-fashioned GOTV efforts enhanced by new technology. Consider this data nugget from Pew:

Nearly twice as many Hispanics as non-voters overall said they forgot to vote, 13.3% to 7.5%.

You have to figure the DSCC’s 60-million dollar GOTV initiative this year ought to be able to drive that number down dramatically.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.