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New Poll: Latino Voters and the 2013 Immigration Debate

by Pili Tobar on 03/05/2013 at 5:12pm

The 2012 election was a game changer for immigration reform, and thanks to unprecedented Latino turnout and a recognition by both political parties of their growing political power, the prospects for enacting bipartisan immigration reform have never been stronger.

On a press call and webinar today, Latino Decisions along with national immigration, Latino and labor leaders discussed the results of a nationwide poll of Latino voters that reveals their current perceptions of the two major political parties and the role that immigration reform plays in shaping these views.

According to Matt Barreto, Principal at Latino Decisions and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington:

Both parties know well that Latino voters care very deeply about comprehensive immigration reform.  The data confirms without question that Latino voters are paying close attention to the immigration debate in Congress and politicians stand much to gain by supporting comprehensive reform.

The poll conducted by Latino Decisions and sponsored by America’s Voice/Service Employees International Union (SEIU)/ National Council of La Raza (NCLR) shows how both political parties stand to gain or lose with Latino voters, depending on how they address comprehensive immigration reform.  Among the poll’s highlights:

  • Latino voters see immigration reform as highly important and are watching the debate closely.  Fully 75% of Latino voters—including 84% of those who are naturalized citizens—are following news about the upcoming debate on immigration in Congress.  Immigration reform has now replaced the economy/jobs as the number one issue facing the Latino community that these voters want addressed.  In November 2012, immigration reform was a top issue for 35% of Latino voters, and the economy/jobs ranked key for 53%.  In February 2013, 58% of Latino voters identified immigration as a top issue and 38% indicated the economy and jobs.
  • Latino voters know where the parties stand on the issue, and the GOP’s anti-immigrant positions have hurt them in recent elections.  According to the poll, the favorability ratings of President Obama, Democrats in Congress, and Republicans in Congress are closely aligned with Latino voters’ views of their handling of immigration.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Republican Party’s favorability rating is less than half that of Obama and congressional Democrats–and 64% of Latino voters blame Republicans for the failure of immigration reform in recent years–due to their very public, very prominent anti-immigration stance.
  • But this doesn’t have to be a permanent problem for the GOP.  If Republicans change their position on immigration and embrace a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, they can reset their image with Latinos.  Nationwide, 44% of Latino voters say they would be more likely to vote Republican if the Party takes a leadership role in passing immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  This includes 43% of Latinos who voted for Obama in 2012, and 49% of Latinos who identify as Independents.  In addition, fully 52% of Latino voters have supported a Republican candidate at one point or another.  This proves that the Republicans can actually improve their Latino support—but only if they adopt a new immigration plan.

According to Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Director of Immigration and National Campaigns at NCLR:

Where it comes to courting Latino voters, it is clear that candidates matter, issues matter, and meaningful outreach is essential.  Immigration is a defining issue, and the message here is that Democrats need to deliver, and Republicans need to be part of the solution if they expect to rebuild their relationship with this growing electorate.  The opportunity is there, the moment is now, and Latino voters are engaged and watching.

Added Eliseo Medina, Secretary Treasurer of SEIU:

This poll is also flashing a big warning light to Congress. Latinos have heard the comments by members of Congress and Republican leaders, off the cuff or deliberate, about legalization but no citizenship. And they oppose that approach in no uncertain terms. They know that no citizenship means second class status and a rejection of our family members, friends, and co-workers as a part of our society. That notion is flat out wrong and unacceptable. If it was a trial balloon, it is time to reel it in because it won’t fly.

This new poll falls on the heels of the release of a new set of data from Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress, which projects the growth of Latino and other minority voters in the upcoming 2014 and 2016 election cycles.

Said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

The takeaway for both parties from this poll it’s that immigration reform is a defining issue for Latino voters and a candidate’s position on this issue matters intensely. Democrats enjoy a huge advantage and have much to gain by enacting reform.  But it’s also true that if Republicans in Congress help pass a law that includes a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million Americans-in-waiting, they have a chance to reset their image with Latinos.  Failure to do so, will represent a setback for Democrats but a near mortal blow to Republicans.

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