In June of 2003, the much-quoted neoconservative pundit Michael Barone claimed:
"… Hispanic immigrants are the fastest-growing and politically most fluid segment of the electorate. They were 7 percent of voters in 2000 and could be 9 percent in 2004, most of them in big states."
Before I reveal what the new federal data suggests about Barone's assertion, let's review a little history.
The Bush campaign brain trust—Karl Rove, pollster Matthew Dowd, and assorted journalistic water-carriers of whom Barone is probably the most important—has long argued that, because our current mass immigration policy creates new citizens who vote by landslide margins against Republicans, the only solution is … even more immigration!
The logic behind this hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-you strategy, meekly accepted by most of the press: Hispanic voting clout is already overwhelming. The only possible response is to pander to them and import more of their co-ethnics—in the hope of losing slightly less badly among them…in the short run.
Nonsense, of course. In the first place, most Hispanics have sensibly ambivalent feelings about immigration, especially illegal immigration. In a Pew Foundation poll of Latino registered voters, only 7% said there were "too few" immigrants in the U.S.
Among Hispanics, it's generally only the professional ethnics—the politicians, identity politics activists, campaign consultants, Spanish-language broadcasters, marketers, etc.—who want lots more immigration in order to further feather their own nests.
In the second place, to plagiarize the late historian Daniel Boorstin's saying about promoters, the Latino electoral tsunami that we hear so much about hasn't quite gone through the formality of taking place.
Current immigration policy certainly poses a vast long-run danger to the GOP. But there's still time to do something about it.
The single best measure of the size of ethnic electoral blocs is the Current Population Survey of the voting and registration behavior of about 50,000 households. This is conducted by the Census Bureau immediately following each national election.
In July 2001, I broke the story that this not-yet-published federal data showed that the Hispanic vote in 2000 had only reached 5.4 percent, well below the seven percent figure widely cited in the press. (It had come from rounding up the 6.5 percent figure from the smaller VNS exit poll.)
This time around, the Census Bureau didn't allow outsiders to prowl around in their unreleased data. But the official 2002 numbers are finally out.
So how much did the Latino electorate grow?
Answer: it didn't. The Hispanic vote shrank, from 5.4 percent in 2000 down to 5.3 percent in 2002.
I don't believe this fact has been published anywhere else yet. If you want to check it yourself, here's the Census Bureau's Acrobat PDF file—you have to crunch the numbers in Table B.
Whereas, in contrast, white Americans did turn out in 2002—apparently a patriotic response to 9/11 and the looming Iraq Attaq. The non-Hispanic white share of the vote was 81.3 percent, up from 80.7 percent in 2000.
Note: that made the white vote more than 15 times larger than the much-ballyhooed Hispanic fraction.
Thus, if Bush's Hispandering on immigration costs the GOP one percentage point among whites, he will have to boost the Republican share of the Hispanic vote by an impossible fifteen percentage points just to break even.
Of course, the Latino share is likely to grow from 2002 to 2004. But my longstanding forecast of about 6.1 percent for Hispanics this year seems likely to turn out well.
Back in May, I challenged Barone, who is supposed to know about this stuff as author of The Almanac of American Politics, to a bet:
"I hereby declare that, in the tradition of the famous bet between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich, I will wager $1,000 that the Hispanic share of the 2004 Presidential vote—according to the November 2004 Census Bureau survey—will be closer to my prediction of 6.1 percent than to Barone's prediction of 8.5%. Mr. Barone can reach me here."
[A Bet For Barone, May 30, 2004]
For some reason, I haven't heard back from him.
I could use the money, so you might want to email him and ask him if he'll put up or shut up.