Low voter turnout among Hispanics in Texas plays a key role in preventing the Republican-dominated state from being politically competitive, according to a new report from the polling company Latino Decisions.
In Texas, which is home to nearly one in five of all U.S. Hispanics, just 39 percent of Hispanics who were eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election cast a ballot. That’s compared with 48 percent of eligible U.S. Hispanics, 61 percent of eligible white Texans and 64 percent of eligible white Americans.
“If Hispanic voter mobilization efforts were successful in the state, Texas would be as competitive as Florida in statewide contests, including presidential elections,” said the report, which was commissioned by America’s Voice, which advocates for immigration reform.
Twenty-five percent of Texas Hispanic voters said they were contacted by campaigns or organizations encouraging them to vote in 2012, the report said. The national average was 31 percent.
"That's really abysmal; these are voters," said Sylvia Manzano, principal at Latino Decisions. "If they're not even getting contacted, then we can only surmise that the less-frequent voters and the eligible but not registered are also not being encouraged to participate."
In Texas, where 38 percent of residents are Hispanic, both major political parties are actively pursuing Hispanic voters, 56 percent of whom identified as Democrats in 2012. Hispanics are expected to be a plurality of the state population by 2020.
Republicans have retained some support among Texas Hispanics in part because there hasn't been an "anti-immigration Pied Piper" in the state, Manzano said. But she said that is changing, citing campaign materials from GOP lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick calling for stopping the "illegal invasion."
"The current slate of candidates is using distinctively non-Texas tactics that we know spurn Hispanic voters," Manzano said of Republican primary candidates for lieutenant governor and other offices.
Patrick, a state senator from Houston, has said that he and other conservative Republicans are "absolutely not" anti-immigrant but rather anti-illegal immigrant and concerned about criminals crossing the border. He said Mexican-Americans share that concern.
A narrow majority of registered Texas voters would favor an overhaul of federal immigration law that included a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
The Republican Party of Texas has nine staffers dedicated to minority outreach with the help of money from the Republican National Committee. One is focused on black voters, one on Asian voters and seven on Hispanics.
And since Battleground Texas was created a year ago to register Democratic voters and get them to the polls, the organization says it has drawn more than 10,000 volunteers. Democrats haven't won a statewide race since 1994.
The idea that Texas could turn blue ignores the possibility that Texas could turn bright red if Republicans return to the George W. Bush-era model of outreach and policy friendly to Hispanics, Manzano said.
"It's a matter of come and take it," Manzano said. "Whichever party decides to invest in long-term engagement, establishing relationships with new voters, with alienated voters, can maximize the demographics."
Those demographics are rapidly changing. Age differences between Hispanic and white Texans help explain the growth of Texas’ Hispanic population. More than half of Hispanic Texans are under age 30, while 35 percent of white Texans are under age 30, the report said.