Harry J Enten: If the GOP has decided to embrace immigration reform to bolster its electoral chances with Hispanic voters, it should think again
Republicans may feel electoral pressure to vote for comprehensive immigration reform. They shouldn't – at least in the short term. Latino voters are Democrats, and Republicans would gain little even by making a 180-degree turn on immigration reform in the next 15 years. Here are five reasons why.
1. ¡es la economía, estúpido!
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.
2. Latinos are liberal
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.
3. Even "Latino-friendly" GOP politicians never did that well
The best Republican performances among Latinos have still been a big bag of "meh". Ronald Reagan only got 37% of the Latino vote in 1984, despite winning 59% of the overall vote. Much has been made of George W Bush's exit performance with Latinos, but it's important to remember that pre-election polls showed Bush in the low 30s. In fact, a Latino-specific election day poll, with a high number of Latino voters, pegged Bush's Latino support at only 35%.
The "worst" Republican showings among Latinos haven't differed much. Bob Dole got 23% of the two-party vote in 1996, which is the same as Mitt Romney in 2012. This narrow band of difference tends to follow the voting patterns of African Americans and American Jews (staple demographic groups in the American electorate) in the past 30 years. We also haven't seen much movement among these groups – even with extensive voter outreach.
4. Demographics don't swing elections
Even if Republicans did bring up their percentage of the Latino vote, it wouldn't make a great difference nationwide. Say Mitt Romney won George W Bush's percentage of the Latino vote, he still would have lost the nationwide vote by 1.4pt. The reason is that the Latino vote still only makes up 9-10% of the vote in the national exit polls, and slightly less in most other surveys.
The rate of growth of the Latino vote nationwide has been relatively slow. A solid estimate matching past trends from David Broockman and Ethan Roeder put the Latino vote growing about 0.6pt as a portion of the electorate every presidential election through 2024. Obama's margin of victory would be just 0.7pt higher according to projected demographics for 2024. That puts an onus on Republicans to win more Latino votes, though it's not as large an imperative as one might assume.
5. Most Latino voters don't live in swing states
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.
[Latino with an eyebrow raised via Shutterstock]