Registration race for 2012 underway

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Democratic-leaning blocs of minority, youth and unmarried voters could provide a majority of votes for the first time in the 2012 election, but their historically low turnout will likely reduce their percentage of the vote, says a new survey by a Democratic-affiliated advocacy group.

“We’re not sure they will turn out to vote … [but] there’s enormous potential to register these voters,” said Celinda Lake, a pollster who conducted the study for the Voter Participation Center.

The center is trying to boost registration of what it calls the “Rising American Electorate” (RAE), which consists of unmarried women and voters under 30 years of age, plus blacks and Latinos.

Democrats hope this rising demographic tide will carry them to victory in 2012 and afterward. For example, in 2008, 55 percent of married people, but only 33 percent of unmarried people, voted GOP.

The rise of these RAEs is spurring right-of-center groups to launch their own registration drives for the 2012 vote. The Family Research Council, for example, is sending a bus to various sites around the country where allied advocates register GOP-leaning voters, such as people attending colleges or evangelical services.

The Republican National Committee’s voter registration efforts are limited by election finance laws. The rules require that it pay for voter registration efforts with so-called “hard dollars,” which are contributed in relatively small and capped increments by public donors. They can’t use unlimited donations, dubbed “soft money.”

“Voter registration drives are outrageously expensive, and hard dollar committees don’t do them as much as they used to,” said Rick Wiley, political director at the RNC.

The cost to register new voters is roughly $35 per vote, he told The Daily Caller.

However, he said, the RNC will “launch a very aggressive outreach campaign to the Hispanic voters,” and efforts will be complemented by independent outside groups that register new voters.

For now, the GOP is working in Florida and California‘s Central Valley to reach people who have left the Democratic Party, and is working in Nevada to register people in communities that voted heavily for new Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is Hispanic.

One-quarter of under-18s are Hispanic, he said. “It’s the new America, and we have to be ready.”

In contrast with high costs for the RNC, liberal organizations can register each new minority voter at an average cost of under $8, Page Gardner, the founder and president of the Voter Participation Center told TheDC. They can be reached via mail, or registered at education centers or government offices, she said.

Numerous Democratic groups are trying to register voters. Mi Familia Vota, for example, is a group backed by unions, immigration lawyers, progressive activists and Spanish-language media companies.

The Chicago-based Obama 2012 campaign says it is aggressively trying to register minorities, especially Hispanics who were too young to vote in 2008. New Hispanic voters could provide the winning margin in critical swing states such as Colorado and North Carolina, say Democrats.

The Democratic-leaning RAE segment includes several fast-growing blocs, which could together comprise a majority of the voting-age population for the first time in 2012, said Lake.

Each segment in this RAE group is growing.

From 2010 to 2012, the number of unmarried women will grow by 1.8 million, Latinos will grow by 2.2 million, African-Americans will grow by half a million, and under-30 voters will grow by 1.3 million, said Lake. Those groups overlap, but their combined numbers will bring them to 53.5 percent of the 2012 voting-age population, up from 49.2 percent in 2000, she said.

However, these groups’ impact on election day is weakened by their lower registration and voting rates, in comparison to mainstream white and married voters.

In 2000, the RAE voters cast 41.5 percent of the votes, even though they were 49.2 percent of the voting-age population.

In 2008, their percentage jumped five points to 46.6 percent, still below their 52.1 percent share of the voting-age population.

Voter turnout for these blocs drops even more during a non-presidential election.

Only 31.2 percent of Latinos voted in the 2010 election, while 20 percent were registered but did not vote. Ten million Latinos, or 48 percent of the group’s population, were not registered, Lake said.

“Registration is a huge problem with the RAEs … because of their high mobility,” said Lake. When they move to a new jurisdiction, they have to register in the new district, and can’t easily get reminders from voter registration groups.

For example, roughly 24 percent of white or married voters are living at a different address from five years ago, she said, but 41 percent of unmarried women, 54 percent of under-30s, 41 percent of Africa-Americans and 42 percent of Latinos are are new addresses.

Democrats’ hopes for these RAE blocs is overstated, because their support for Obama has plummeted, Wiley contended.

Support among Hispanics has dropped by 25 percent, giving the GOP candidate room to win their votes because of GOP policies towards the economy, education and the family, he said. “That is a huge problem for the president.”

The Family Research Council is “trying to increase voter registration across the board … because we are a Christian organization,” said Connie Mackey, who runs the council’s affiliated political action committee.

However, she said, “we’re playing extra emphasis on the community we represent — Christian voters — who have every good reason to make sure Barack Obama doesn’t get a second turn.”

Many Hispanics are practicing Christians, either Catholic or evangelical. Republican strategists say Hispanics rate immigration as their community’s top priority, but also rate the economy, education and security as top priorities for themselves and their immediate family.

Compared to the RAE blocs, registration and voting rates are higher among white or married couples.

Overall, 56.1 of white or married voters voted in 2008, while 16 percent were registered and did not vote, and 27 percent were not registered, Lake said.

Wiley downplayed any prospect of winning 2012 votes from people who have repeatedly declined to register themselves.

Money, he continued, is better spent bringing independents into the GOP. In Florida, for example, roughly 70,000 registered Democrats and 22,0000 registered Republicans have switched to independent in the last year.

“That’s a better use of our money,” he concluded.

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