RealClearPolitics.com columnist Sean Trende’s otherwise sensible article “Obama’s 2012 Chances and Democratic Demographic Dreaming” makes one wrong assertion:
“Latino immigration has largely stopped over the past several years. It may have even reversed. There are multiple reasons for this, including the United States’ deep recession and slow recovery, as well as the continued modernization of the Mexican economy. In other words, to the extent that Latino immigration is what accounts for the increase in the Latino share of the electorate from 1992 through 2004, we should not expect it to do so from 2008 through 2012.”  (emphasis added)
Mr. Trende makes a mistake because immigrants cannot vote right away. A new legal immigrant has to wait five years before applying for citizenship.  A new illegal immigrant will not be able to vote at all.  US born children of illegal immigrants will not be eligible to vote until they attain 18 years of age.
Mr. Trende is absolutely correct the recent decline in immigration reflects the aftermath of the economic recession. But those immigrants who did not come in 2009-2011 would not be voting in 2012, anyway.
The purpose of Mr. Trende’s article is to critique the latest update to the popular “Emerging Democratic Majority” hypothesis of Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin. Messrs. Teixeira and Halpin first argued in 2002 continuing population growth of American minority groups make a Democratic majority inevitable. The most recent installment argues an additional 2% of the 2012 voting population will be minority, meaning President Obama can afford to lose white voters, abandoning Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan to adjust his 2012 trip to 270 electoral votes down a narrow road running through purplish states with fast-growing minority populations such as Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina.
The Hispanic population is by far the fastest growing in America, surging by 35% to 50.5 million in the 2010 decennial Census.  The Hispanic population is younger and a substantial proportion are not yet citizens so Hispanics comprised 9% of the 2008 vote but 12.5% of the 2010 population.  The comparative youth of the Hispanic population means a disproportionate share of the growth in the electorate in 2012 and beyond. Census data shows Hispanics were 18% of the 16-19 age cohort as of March 2009.  When we contrast the 18% against the 9% of the total 2008 vote, it shows the crux of the Teixeira argument. That 16-19 cohort of 2009 is sure to include many 2012 first-time voters.
One important point Mr. Trende makes about the Teixeira theory is voters are not static. Obama won 67% of the Hispanic vote in 2008  , which is fairly typical for a nationwide Democrat. The Democratic share of the nationwide Hispanic vote slipped to about 60% in 2010 and a few candidates such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush won about 40% of the Hispanic vote. Mr. Trende’s point about President Obama being judged on the economy is obvious. He also notes Latino turnout has varied from year to year even as the overall Hispanic population grew , presumably for the same reasons white turnout varies: turnout is based on how people feel about the candidates and the overall importance of an election.
A flaw Mr. Trende identifies in the Teixeira theory is the assumption black or Hispanic vote proportions for Democrats or the GOP will remain the same year after year. This has not been the case in the recent past. I believe the Hispanic vote is especially subject to generally adjusting to the Republicans because Hispanic voters have, unlike black voters, voted quite differently based on socioeconomic status. As City Journal’s Steven Malanga wrote: “in the McCain-Obama contest, 83 percent of Hispanic voters with annual incomes of $15,000 or less voted for Obama, as did 71 percent of those earning between $15,000 and $30,000. By contrast, 51 percent of those with household incomes between $150,000 and $200,000 voted for McCain.”  White voting also follows a trend of becoming more Republican as one moves up the income and education scale, though the Hispanic differential between low and high incomes is much more pronounced, indicating more potential upside to the Republicans if the trend continues. 
This suggests Hispanic voters tend Democratic at lower-income levels and become ever more Republican as they move up the education and income scale. No one knows the future for sure, but it would be logical to think overall Hispanic voters will become Republican as the Hispanic population becomes more settled and financially secure. To the extent some Latinos vote Democratic because they are offended by anti-immigration rhetoric from some of the more strident Republicans, I trust this will also change over time as those Republicans either change their ways or are voted out.
Actual 2008 exit polling data (below) suggests another reelection headache for Mr. Obama neither Mr. Teixeira nor Mr. Trende suggest:
|2008 Hispanic Vote Share:||Obama:|
|Chart by author, data source: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1024/exit-poll-analysis-hispanics|
The Hispanic vote total for Obama varied greatly from New Jersey’s 78% to Arizona’s 56%. This dispersion makes the Teixeira hypothesis more of a stretch if it holds in 2012. Why?
With the exception of Nevada, the reason is the states with the highest ratio of Democratic Hispanics are generally safely in the Democratic camp, anyway. Nevada and New Mexico are battlegrounds with six and five electoral votes, respectively. On the other hand, two larger and therefore more important battleground states in the Teixeira 2012 roadmap are Colorado (nine electoral votes) and Florida (29 votes). Mr. Obama won 61% of Hispanics in Colorado and just 57% in Florida. A slightly larger 2012 Hispanic voting block in those states will not actually do President Obama much good if he is winning 61% or 57% of those incremental voters. Furthermore, Mr. Obama’s 51% current approval rating with Hispanics  suggests his 2012 vote percentages will be lower, meaning incremental Hispanic voters in Colorado and Florida may be a draw or even help the Republican. Perhaps even more so if US Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) were the Republican Vice Presidential nominee.
The chart above shows how, from President Obama’s perspective, Hispanic votes are rather inefficiently placed under the winner-takes-all Electoral College with the largest Hispanic populations in states that are almost certainly already settled (California, Texas, New York, Illinois, New Jersey) or happen to have the Hispanic populace most amenable to Republicans (Florida).
Despite Mr. Trende’s error in linking the recent drop in immigration to the 2012 election turnout, he does point out flaws in the Teixeira 2012 roadmap. The Teixeira theory has a huge hole in assuming minority groups remain just as Democratic as they grow in proportion to whites. When we look at subgroups of whites which were once considered distinct minorities, be it Italians, Poles or Irish, we see a gradual trend away from the Democratic Party as these groups have become increasingly assimilated and economically prosperous. Anecdotally, most Hispanics I know personally are Republican or independents who lean that way; I trust this higher than normal Hispanic Republican experience reflects my socioeconomic status.
That said, these changes rarely happen overnight and the demographic trends show future electorates will be increasingly Hispanic as recent immigrants gain citizenship and the young Hispanics attain age 18. I happen to be a strong supporter of immigration on both humanitarian and economic grounds. Though we have broadly discussed racial groups here, the fact remains everyone is an individual. There is no prototypical “Hispanic” as Hispanic Americans came from myriad countries of origin, some do not even speak Spanish and some, such as Eva Longoria, happen to be descendents of people who immigrated to Spain’s American territories four or five hundred years ago, long before Texas, Florida and the Southwest were annexed by the United States. Each Hispanic has a unique human experience. The Republican Party would be wise to cater as best as it can to the growing Hispanic population, lest they someday prove Teixeira’s “Emerging Democratic Majority” correct.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_Citizenship#Eligibility_for_naturalization. (accessed 11/30/11).
 In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I assume the number of illegal immigrants who actually vote is immaterial.
 See figure 2 in Pew link (note ) where Hispanic vote proportion dropped in states like FL and CA between 2004 and 2008, despite significant relative population growth.
 McCain won 56% of whites over $50,000, 51% of whites under $50,000. Exit polling data from page 1 of http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/results/polls/#val=USP00p1.
Pictures of famous Hispanic Americans Sen. Marco Rubio, Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM), Demi Lovato and Eva Longoria from Wikipedia Commons.