According to an initial study reported by the AP today (and recounted in a number of newspapers, here is a link to the Contra Costa Times), there is no compelling evidence yet that the immigration rallies earlier this year have led to substantial surges in Hispanic voter registration.
The methodology of the AP story was to examine voter registration statistics from a variety of urban areas where there are high concentrations of Hispanic citizens, and then to look for whether or not the 2006 voter registration figures (so far) are showing evidence of any surges. Here is a piece from the story talking about the study, and the specific findings:
For this story, the AP reviewed new registration numbers in metropolitan areas over several years. The areas included Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose; Chicago; Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; Dallas and Houston; Atlanta; Denver; and Jacksonville and St. Petersburg, Fla. The time frames included both January-through-July periods dating to 2004, as well as periods before statewide elections, when registration efforts are most intense.
The data provide a wide-angle look at new registrations, but they do have limitations. Any significant shift in registrations overall would stand out, but voters are not specifically identified by race or ethnicity. As a result, an increase in new registrations in Los Angeles County in the 100 days before this June’s primary compared to the months before two prior statewide elections cannot be attributed exclusively to new Latino voters, despite extensive registration efforts.
Gains in new registrations were highest in 2004, when political parties spent lavishly to enroll new voters ahead of the presidential election.
New voter registrations increased in virtually every city between 2005 and 2006 — but that would be expected because of congressional primaries and elections. The 2006 numbers were below the 2004 numbers in every city, often significantly.
In Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, new registrations through July tallied 55,657 — an increase of 16 percent over 2005 but well below the 71,402 from 2004.
Dallas County showed more potential in attaining significant new voter registrations for 2006. Its new voter registrations totaled 35,590 through Aug. 15. With less than half of this year left, the figure was only 4,775 shy of the number of new voters who registered in 2004, a presidential election year. Last year, Dallas and the surrounding cities in the county had 27,321 new voters register.
In rare cases, registrations declined. New registrations in San Francisco were significantly lower in the 100 days before this year’s June 6 primary than over the same period before a statewide special election in November 2005.
In Chicago and surrounding Cook County, registrations in the first seven months this year jumped about a third over 2005, but were far below the same period in 2004.
As the story notes repeatedly, this is not conclusive evidence that the immigration marches will not impact Hispanic voting behavior. It is still possible that as we get closer to close-of-registration periods in these urban areas that there will be surges in Hispanic registrations, that the marches might galvanize already-registered Hispanics to vote this fall, or that many of the young Hispancs involved in the marches will be more likely to register to vote when they reach 18, or that non-citizens involved in the marches may be more likely to follow the path to naturalization (and be eligible to vote in the future).
It is also possible that the AP analysis has some problems, for example, according to the reports (and the figures cited above) in some cases they were comparing changes in registration between a presidential election year (2004) and this midterm federal election year; a better comparison would be to have looked at the 2006 midterm, relative to previous midterm elections (2002 and 1998, for example). It is well known that midterm elections are not as interesting to voters as presidential elections, and that groups and parties tend not to put as much resources into get-out-the-vote efforts in midterm elections.
One thing is for sure — this will be a research question of interest in the social science community for years to come!