Bad News for Obama: Democrats Have a Registration Problem

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Demographics will doom Republicans in the out years, Democrats like to say. A coalition of Black and Latino voters along with the socially moderate youth bloc is quickly becoming the left’s safety net, even in tight elections. But as the Washington Post reported Friday, there’s a problem:

[T]his is the first time in nearly four decades that the number of registered Hispanics has dropped significantly.

That figure fell 5% across the country, to about 11 million, according to theĀ Census Bureau. But in some politically important swing states, the decline among Hispanics, who are considered critical in the 2012 presidential contest, is much higher: just over 28% in New Mexico, for example, and about 10% in Florida.

In total, the number of registered blacks and Hispanics across the country declined by 2 million from 2008 to late 2010, when the Census Bureau collected the data through its Current Population Survey.

The figure among blacks is down 7%, to just over 16 million. Among whites, it dropped 6% to 104 million.

Here’s why this is potentially disastrous for Obama:

For one, whites break more evenly than Latinos or Blacks do. Obama lost whites to John McCain by 12 points in 2008, but won Latinos by 36 points and blacks by an overwhelming 91 points. That means the effect of the drop in registration among whites is relatively diffuse, while the effect of a similar drop among Blacks and Latinos is much more pronounced for Democrats.

Another factor is what’s behind the drop in the first place: Most people lose their registration when they move between communities, and those likeliest to pick up and leave town are young, a slice of the population Obama won by 34 points in 2008, and those displaced by economic hardship. Obama beat McCain among voters making less than $50,000 a year by 22 points, and only narrowly lost whites in that income bracket by 4 points. So on both counts, the registration losses fall hard on Obama.

On top of that, playing catchup in 2012 will be inordinately difficult. Some Republican statehouses in recent years have enacted legislation imposing strict reporting requirements on groups that register voters. Compounding their problem is the fact that since 2008, 16 states have either passed new voter ID laws (four were vetoed) or strengthened requirements already on the books. That means that even if they get registered and get to the polls, some lower income and minority voters, who are less likely to have IDs, may be turned away.

Democrats often boast about their robust ground game and registration drives. This year, more than ever, they’re going to need them.