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September 5, 2006
Immigration Rallies Do Not Increase Voter Registrations

The AP decided to take a look at the prediction that immigration rallies this spring would inspire hundreds of thousands to register as voters in time for the upcoming midterm elections, if not the earlier primaries. Despite this conventional wisdom getting repeated endlessly in political analyses, they only found this to be true in Los Angeles -- and on a much smaller scale than predicted:

Immigration protests that drew hundreds of thousands of flag-waving demonstrators to the nation's streets in the spring promised a potent political legacy -- a surge of new Hispanic voters.

"Today we march, tomorrow we vote," they proclaimed.

But an Associated Press review of voter registration figures from Chicago, Denver, Houston, Atlanta and other major urban areas that had large rallies found no sign of a new voter boom that could sway elections. There was a rise in Los Angeles, where 500,000 protested in March, but it was more of a trickle than a torrent.

Protest organizers -- principally unions, Hispanic advocacy groups and the Catholic Church -- acknowledge it has been hard to translate street activism into voting clout, though they insist they can reach their goal of 1 million new voters by 2008.

"I was anticipating a huge jump in registration. I didn't see it," said Jess Cervantes, a veteran California political operative whose company analyzes Hispanic voting trends. "When you have an emotional response, it takes time to evolve."

That's exactly incorrect. Movements based on emotion tend to decay rapidly; leaders of such movements have to keep their followers in crisis mode to keep them motivated. The evolution of emotional response is the counterreaction of reason, not momentum of disreason. We need no better model for this than the American resolve on 9/12/01. The unity of rage and demand for vengeance was mind-boggling for a country that nearly tore itself apart over 600 votes in Florida less than a year earlier. As the months and years passed, however, people put the experience into the broader context of their own political beliefs, which has led to the return of partisanship that we have seen since the Afghanistan phase of the war.

The truth lies elsewhere. The rallies inspired hundreds of thousands to take to the streets, but even their organizers admit that a good percentage of the protestors had no legal right to be in the country. Those people cannot legally register to vote, and since their continued presence in the US depends on staying out of sight of the authorities, most would not be tempted to risk deportation by registering their existence with the government. Most of the rest are experienced political activists -- who registered to vote long ago.

The immigration rallies succeeded in pressuring independents and Democrats into favoring more liberal solutions to reform and border security. The numbers of the protestors made sure that their message got heard in Washington DC. The existing votes they represent had enough of an impact to ensure that success. However, their composition almost guaranteed that they would have little impact on voter registrations, and the emotional nature of their argument ensured that it would dissipate shortly after the last flyer hit the wastebasket.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 5, 2006 6:05 AM

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» Illegal Immigration Watch: “Today We March, Tomorrow We DON’T BOTHER to Vote” from FullosseousFlap's Dental Blog
Juana Contreras, 67, from Berkeley, Calif., is pushed in her wheelchair Monday, Sept. 4, 2006 with others through downtown San Francisco during a rally supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants living in the United States. Thousands of immigrant right... [Read More]

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Tracked on September 5, 2006 10:37 AM


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