Immigration Reform and Electoral Advantage

by Andrew Stuttaford

Writing in the Guardian, Harry Enten lists five reasons that the GOP “won’t win Latino voters with immigration reform.”

Here’s an extract:

Latinos didn’t vote for President Obama because Mitt Romney was seen as insensitive on immigration. According to a Fox Latino poll before the election, only 6% of Latinos said that immigration was the most important issue to their vote. A Latino Decisions (LD) election eve poll allowed multiple answers to issues that were important and, still, 65% did not say immigration was important to them. Latinos instead cared about the economy. About 50% said the economy was the most important issue to their vote. By a 75% to 19% margin, Latinos are more likely to believe in a bigger government, with more services, to a smaller one. President Obama got 75% of the Latino vote in the LD election eve poll – a perfect match.

Latinos have said openly they won’t change their vote because of immigration policy. Only 31% of Latinos in the LD survey said they would be more likely to vote GOP, if the Republican party took a leadership role in immigration reform. A full 58% said they didn’t know or it would have no effect, while 11% said it would actually make them less likely to vote Republican. The reason is that Latinos are 9pt more likely to say they are liberal than the general population. Most of that has to do with the economy, but even on social issues, Latinos, especially second- and third-generation, are no more conservative than the general population. In fact, second- and third-generation Latinos are more likely to believe abortion should be legal and homosexuality accepted by society than the general population….

Most of the growth in the Latino vote is occurring in non-swing states. California and Texas are where most the Latino voters are and will continue to be. California will be blue for the foreseeable future, and Texas isn’t going to turn blue for another decade and a half. Arizona is an intriguing state for Democrats, though the recent Republican turn of the white vote makes it a non-swing state.

The only swing states in which Latinos make up the same or a greater percentage of the electorate than nationally are Colorado, Florida, and Nevada. A modest improvement for Republicans in these states could make a difference in a close election. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but the majority of swing states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are more likely to be determined by African-American and non-Hispanic white voters.

All in all, Republican appeals to Latino voters are not likely to win the party many more votes in elections. That’s the bad news for the party of Lincoln.

The good news for Republicans is that Latino voters are, and will continue to be, only a slowly growing portion of the American electorate. And by the time Latinos make up 15% or more of the electorate, in 30 to 40 years, most of them will be second-generation or beyond. As Jamelle Bouie points out, they are likely to assimilate in similar ways to Italian and Irish immigrants before them. When that happens, Latinos’ stances on a whole range of issues will evolve.

If Republicans are not careful, the language in which they conduct the immigration debate could be profoundly alienating to Latino voters — that’s a different question. On the political consequences of immigration reform itself, however, Mr. Enten makes a convincing case. It thus seems that immigration reform (at least on the lines now being sketched out) not only makes no economic sense (except perhaps for employers wanting cheap labor), but, from the perspective of the GOP, doesn’t seem the smartest idea politically either. Under those circumstances the fact that Senator McCain supports it is no great surprise, but Senator Rubio?

We live and learn.

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