The latest data shows that Democrats have a 2-1 registration advantage over Republicans among Hispanics. In the 2002 midterm elections, when optimistic Republicans told themselves they had performed particularly well among Hispanics, Latinos voted 65 percent Democratic and 32 percent Republican in Senate races. In gubernatorial races, the split was essentially the same. If a 2-1 landslide against you is progress, you are in trouble.
With its amnesty proposal at the beginning of the year, the Bush administration hoped to win more Hispanic support, but to no avail. "The notion that you can float some sort of amnesty, and low-income, poorly educated voters come on board is fantasy," says Gimpel, who has just authored a report for the Center for Immigration Studies on Latino voting patterns. Latinos mainly vote on the same issues as everyone else, meaning they vote like most other poor, Democratic-leaning voters. According to a Pew study, Latinos rate immigration reform 11th in terms of its importance as an issue.
Bush has been operating on a flawed theory of his own performance among Hispanics in his 1998 gubernatorial re-election in Texas. Yes, Bush did much better than Republicans usually do among Hispanics. But that is mostly because in his landslide victory many Hispanic voters stayed home, which increased the share of more-affluent, Republican-leaning Latinos in the Hispanic electorate. "There is a big difference between increasing your share of the Hispanic vote based on low turnout and increasing it on the basis of conversion," says Gimpel.