The Democrats' only chance to maintain their control of Congress this election depends on the party's ability to turn out its base. Democrats can't win unless young voters, those with lower incomes, union members, and those who are members of minority groups, especially blacks and Hispanics, turn out in larger-than-usual numbers for a non-presidential election year. A higher-than-average turnout among such voters helped President Obama win in 2008, but there isn't much indication that these voters will do so this election. And now there's solid evidence that one of those groups -- Hispanics -- will be a big disappointment to Democrats this year.
A new poll out from the Pew Hispanic Center suggests that even though a large majority of Hispanic voters favor the Democrats, it may not mean much come November. Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the country, making up more than 15 percent of the total population. But they constitute a smaller percentage of those actually eligible to vote -- only 9 percent -- because a larger proportion of them are under 18 years of age or are not citizens.
Hispanics have traditionally voted Democratic, but various Republican presidential candidates have been able to make substantial inroads into the Hispanic vote. From the elections of Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, between a third to well over 40 percent of Hispanic voters cast their ballots for Republicans.
In the last two national elections, however, Hispanics have deserted the Republican Party in droves, largely because the GOP has been perceived as less friendly territory. And the Pew poll shows only about one-in-five Hispanic registered voters as preferring Republican candidates in this year's congressional election; whereas among all registered voters, preference is about evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
But the real problem for the Democrats is that Hispanics aren't very motivated to vote this year. Only about half of registered Hispanic voters say they will vote in November's midterms, according to the Pew study, compared with 70 percent of all registered voters. And among Hispanics who say they will vote, a slightly higher proportion of those who lean Republican are likely to vote than those who lean Democrat.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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