Federal immigration policy has allowed about 30 million legal immigrants to settle permanently in the United States since 1980. This has affected all areas of American life, not the least being electoral politics.
Progressives openly debate the immigration issue in political terms. Labor-union official Eliseo Medina, for instance, has promoted amnesty and increased immigration as a means to “expand and solidify the progressive coalition for the future” in order to “create a governing coalition for the long term, not just for an election cycle.”
Is Medina right?A new report
published by my organization, the Center for Immigration Studies, suggests he is. The study, by University of Maryland political scientist James Gimpel, shows how mass legal immigration is remaking the electorate in favor of Democrats. Gimpel examines the results of every presidential election from 1980 to 2012 and finds that, in the nation’s 100 largest counties, each one percentage-point increase in the immigrant share of the population on average reduced the Republican share of the vote by nearly 0.6 percentage points. When all the nation’s counties are included, the decline was a somewhat less, but it was still about 0.45 percentage points.
This is an enormous impact when one considers that the immigrant share of the U.S. population more than doubled from 1980 (6.2 percent) to 2012 (13 percent). Gimpel’s results imply that immigration may have reduced the Republican’s share of the presidential vote nationally by 3 or 4 percentage points. Remember, Obama won in 2012 with 51 percent of the popular vote to Romney’s 47 percent.
Think of it this way: Obama won in 2012 by 5 million votes. But legal immigration will add 15 million new potential citizens over the next two decades — and that’s just from today’s level of 1 million–plus total immigrants per year, without even counting the amnesty and immigration increases in the Schumer-Rubio bill passed by the Senate. (The 15 million figure takes into account residency requirements, age, and return migration.) As a recent Eagle Forum report concluded, “If immigration is not reduced, it will be virtually impossible for Republicans to remain nationally competitive as a conservative party.” The title of the Eagle Forum report sums up the problem: “How Mass (Legal) Immigration Dooms a Conservative Republican Party”.
A second key finding of Gimpel’s report is that “the partisan impact of immigration is relatively uniform throughout the country — from California to Texas to Florida — even though local Republican parties have taken different positions on illegal immigration.” Thus the demise of Republican political prospects “does not seem to vary with the local Republican Party’s position on illegal immigration.” That immigrants give overwhelming support to Democrats regardless of local Republicans’ approach to immigration is a fact supported by past history as well as other research.
For instance, two years after Reagan signed an amnesty in 1986, George Bush senior received only 30 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 1988 landslide victory — a seven-point decline from Reagan’s 1984 share. A recent study by University of Alabama professor George Hawley found that, in the 2006 midterm elections, pro-amnesty Republicans did no better with Hispanics than pro-enforcement Republicans. (The issue had a high profile that year because the House’s 2006 enforcement bill led to mass protests in immigrant communities.) The reason immigration makes little difference in voting is that it’s not a top priority for Asians and Hispanics. Both Pew and Gallup found that immigration ranked low in priority among Hispanics, particularly among registered voters, prior to the 2012 election. Asians also rank immigration as a low priority.
Immigrants and their U.S.-born children strongly support Democrats for the simple reason that they largely agree with them on the issues. Immigrants, particularly Hispanics and Asians (who together constitute about three-fourths of all immigrants), have, as Gimpel writes, “policy preferences when it comes to the size and scope of government that are more closely aligned with progressives than with conservatives.” The aforementioned Eagle Forum report provides an extensive overview of the many, many surveys showing Asian and Hispanic support for big-government policies.
Pew has found that 55 percent of Hispanics have a negative view of capitalism, the highest of any group surveyed — higher even than self-identified supporters of Occupy Wall Street (47 percent). Let me repeat: Occupy Wall Street supporters like capitalism more than Hispanics do.
Pew also found that 75 percent of Hispanics prefer “a bigger government providing more services” while only 19 percent want “a smaller government providing fewer services.” Among Asians the share wanting a bigger versus a smaller government was 55 versus 36 percent. In contrast, Pew found that only 41 percent of the general public wanted a bigger government.