Friday, May 4, 2012

Minority Voter Registration

The Washington Post reports that voter registration is down among minorities and it is particularly the case among Latinos. The story speculates that a big part of the reason is the weak economy which leads many poor voters to move and thus, no longer be registered at their new address. Indeed, registration rates are down significantly among whites as well but the problem is greater among minority voters since the poor are disproportionately Black and Latino.

Compounding the problem is new strict voter registration and voting laws in many states including Florida and Ohio. So the Obama campaign's efforts to identify, register, and get these voters to the polls may be less effective than in 2008.

Obviously, this presents an important challenge to the Obama campaign in a tight race. How big of a problem is it? Here's a few thoughts:

1) I have said many times that I think the ground game is less important than most people believe and I've specifically said I think the ground game is least important in a high-profile election (like a presidential) with high levels of voter turnout (like a presidential). See here for a recent post on this subject. One reason I think the ground game is not so important is that both sides employ a ground game so unless there is a significant asymetry of resources, they cancel each other out. If either side has an advantage in 2012, it is clearly Obama's campaign. So, Obama will likely make up some ground (pardon the pun) in the ground game.

2) The article points out that voter registration is down among whites as well. The Obama campaign does not have to get minority registration exactly where it was in 2012. They just have to get it to the point where it is not off by more than registration among whites.

3) It's early May and most voters, particularly Democratic voters, have not had a reason to engage in the campaign yet. Obama himself has done very little official campaigning. Since minority voters are disproportionately Democratic, it is not surprising we see lower voter registration rates. There was no competitive primary to get registered to vote in in most states. These voters will engage when there is a close race in which to participate. The Fall will provide that opportunity.

In short, I wouldn't panic about all this just yet. If the numbers are the same on October 1, I'd get a little more worried then but that's 5 months off.

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