Mexican-American Vote Smaller than Many Think
reviewed by Steve Sailer
UPI, July 24, 2001
Pundits have been hailing as a "political masterstroke" the Bush Administration's reported proposal to offer legalization to many, although not all, illegal Mexican immigrants. (Democrats have countered by suggesting programs should aid undocumented workers from all countries, not just Mexico.) Yet, new data now available on the Census Bureau's website, although not yet formally issued to the press, shows that the voting strength of Mexican-Americans remains surprisingly limited. People identifying themselves as being of Mexican ethnicity cast only 3.0 percent of the vote in the 2000 election.
In contrast, the Census Bureau found that African-Americans accounted for 11.5 percent of voters, making them almost four times as numerous as Mexican-American voters. Even Hispanics with roots in countries other than Mexico comprised 2.3 percent of the electorate, not much less than the Mexican total.
Non-Hispanic whites dominated voting with 80.7 percent. Anglo whites cast almost 27 times more ballots than did Mexican-Americans.
Although it's still small, the Mexican-American share has been growing steadily. It's up from 2.6 percent in 1996. If recent trends continue, it should reach somewhere around 3.5 percent by 2004.
Similarly, the total Hispanic grew from 3.6 in 1988 to 4.7 percent in 1996 to 5.4 percent in 2000. It likely will be about six percent or slightly higher in 2004. The Voter News Service exit poll claimed that Hispanics comprised seven percent of the 2000 vote, but that was based on a sample only one quarter as large as the Census Bureau's.
The Census Bureau survey's main weakness is that respondents can falsely claim they voted. Yet, this would only bias the results reported here if some ethnic groups lied more than others. Exit polls, however, have a hard time handling absentee voters.
Although in the long term, Mexican-Americans - and Hispanics in general - are likely to wield massive influence, they probably will not play an outsized role in the 2004 election - in particular, they are unlikely to offer much aid to Bush's expected re-election bid.
Numerous commentators have uncritically repeated the claim made by Bush pollster Matthew Dowd in The Washington Post that, "As a realistic goal, we have to get somewhere between ... 38 to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote," compared to the estimated 35 percent Bush earned in 2000. Yet, simple math shows that if Bush boosts his share of the Hispanic vote from 35 percent to 40 percent, and Hispanics cast six percent of the votes in 2004, then Bush will gain a mere 0.3 percentage points overall.
"Obviously, all this is trivial compared to such things as the economy," one left-of-center election analyst commented on condition of anonymity. "If I were George W. Bush, I would just spend the next four years doing things for Florida and Pennsylvania, rather than playing Hispanic games."
Further, the Electoral College, not the national popular vote, decides presidential elections. (Otherwise, Al Gore would be President.) In 2004, Mexican-American voters are likely to have even less influence there than in the popular vote.
That's because 72.3 percent of Mexican-American voters in 2000 lived in just two states: California and Texas. Neither one is expected to be up for grabs in the next election.
Bush won his home state of Texas with 59.3 percent last year. He picked up 72 percent of Texas' white vote. If he were to need in 2004 a higher share among Mexicans just to hold on to Texas, that's a sure sign he would be doomed to lose nationwide.
In contrast, in California Bush took only 41.7 percent. Even if Bush had won 100 percent of the Mexican-American voters in California last November, he still would have lost California by around 400,000 votes.
In the extremely close 2000 race, 12 states were decided by less than five percentage points. Only seven percent of all Mexican-Americans voters lived in those states. Mexican-Americans accounted for merely 0.8 percent of the all the ballots cast in those 12 states.
Harry P. Pachon, head of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute in Claremont, Calif., said, "The only countervailing facts are that in 23 of 50 states, Latinos are now the largest minority." Pachon defended the political utility of Bush's pro-Mexican-American push: "If 2004 is another squeaker, then it makes a lot of sense." Pachon also pointed out that the U.S. House and Senate are almost evenly balanced, and the Mexican-American vote could decide which party controls them.
Where does this little-known data come from? Right after every national election, the Census Bureau supplements its monthly Current Population Survey of 50,000 households with additional questions about voting. Jennifer Day of the Bureau said it is not planning to issue a press release on the 2000 election findings for another half year or so, but the actual data is currently available to anyone willing to use FERRET (Federal Electronic Research and Review Extraction Tool), a data query tool on the Census.gov website.
This widespread assumption that policies benefiting Mexican-Americans are crucial to Bush's reelection chances seems to have been fueled by the Census Bureau's surprising announcement in March that Hispanics had overtaken African-Americans in numbers, and now comprise exactly one out of eight residents (12.5 percent).
Yet, only one out of 33 voters was Mexican-American. That low share is largely for two reasons.
First, not all Hispanics are Mexican-American. While this should be obvious, observers sometimes seem to conflate the two categories. The Bureau's survey found that Mexicans comprised just 56 percent of all Hispanic voters in 2000.
Residents of Puerto Rican and Cuban ethnicity were more than twice as likely to vote as Mexican-Americans. Unlike Mexicans, Puerto Ricans are all U.S. citizens. Cubans tend to be older and more politically active than Mexicans.
This distinction between Mexicans and other Hispanics is particularly important in assessing the Bush Administrations' plan to strike an immigration deal to aid Mexican nationals with President Vicente Fox. Some non-Mexican Hispanics have complained that such a plan would be ethnically discriminatory against their peoples. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has emphasized that the Democrats' alternative will not be restricted to just Mexicans.
Thus, because the non-Mexican Hispanic voters (2.3% of the electorate) and Asian-American voters (1.8%) combined outnumber Mexican-American voters (3.0%), Bush's Mexican-only initiative might end up actually costing him votes among immigrant groups.
Second, residents of America who identify as being of Mexican heritage are only three-eighths as likely to say they voted in November as the average American. There are several causes. Residents of Mexican descent are less likely to vote because they are less likely to be citizens. Further, they tend to be younger, poorer, and less educated than the typical American, all of which correlate with low turnout.
If there is little political gain in courting the Mexican-American vote, why the seeming focus on it? One political observer suggests a symbolic but politically potent reason: "I think it goes back to Bush being nice to Hispanics to help him with suburban moderates, who don't like Republicans who are too mean spirited." Because non-Hispanic whites cast four out of every five ballots, that might be the most sensible explanation.
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