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Tales of Hispanics Voting

» NY Times: People Don’t Vote When No One Asks Them To (Matt Platkin)

Some interesting points here on Hispanic voting. And in Texas, no less ...

In local elections ... the crass conventional wisdom that I often heard from political professionals was simply, “Latinos don’t vote.” But uncritical adherence to this conventional wisdom often results in a self-fulfilling prophecy: young Latinos are ignored in local races because of their prior voting record, which ensures similarly low turnout in future elections. In 2011, as an inexperienced campaign manager for a young, Latino city council candidate on the south side of San Antonio – a heavily Latino area – I faced this conventional wisdom directly.

Two things here make the replicability of this an open question: a smaller election pool allows for a lot more room to create unnatural phenomenon. The single datapoint behind Platkin's report was that it was a local election. That's certainly not to take anything away from an impressive win. Just that it's not quite the same when you have massive elections above your campaign on the ballot listing and those campaigns have far greater influence on voter decisions to vote or not. This was an election involving roughly 4,800 people. A few hundred votes can make the difference between avoiding or going into a runoff. Also doesn't hurt that Stan Stanart only limits his election screwups to Harris County.

The second point - and one that I think speaks particularly well to the tactical decision by Rey Saldaña and Matt Platkin - is realizing they were not going to win simply by going after the same herd of voters that every other campaign was going after. Not every campaign finds itself in that position and not every campaign that would be better served by fighting from that position is smart enough to realize they need to find a different way to win. Good call. But not necessarily something that can be nationalized by an incumbent President who has already spent the better part of eight years building an identity and record that people already have defined in their minds. And with all that said, I'd be shocked if the Saldaña campaign didn't spend anything on mail or volunteer power to those 2-of-3 previous voters. The bigger question in my mind is how well they performed among those voters.

Another point that stood out for me was that one out of eight voters was one that had not voted before. A little more info on that might help. But I've found that it's quite common that any generic election in the Houston or Harris County - big turnout or small - will see about 10-15% of the electorate being new. If anyone's done any hard counting on this for the 2011 City of Houston election, I'll make a small wager that the rate is somewhere near that ballpark. Maybe this point is clouded in my mind from Harris County being so chock-full of apartments and having a high degree of voter mobility. But as a single metric, one-in-eight doesn't quite scream "huge success in GOTV work" to me. That the campaign appears to have banked a lot of that in the first half of Early Vote and that the overall turnout in the district was higher than 2009 with a somewhat hot Mayor's race ... those points certainly warrants a little more screaming.

I certainly admire the point of exposing the fallacy that "Latinos don't vote". And there's a lot of good reading in this too-brief account of a council district election in San Antonio. But it's definitely worth a full read and a little more thought.

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