A week out from the 2012 elections, it’s clear that Latino voters’ decisive role in the electorate has boosted the prospects and accelerated the timetable for passing immigration reform legislation. Here are two key reasons why:
1. Without a significantly improved performance among Latino voters, the Republican Party’s future as a nationally competitive political party is threatened.
2. While the Latino electorate’s disconnect from the current Republican Party runs deeper than immigration alone, it will be impossible for the GOP to get a hearing on its other issues unless and until they work to pass immigration reform.
While the importance of the Latino electorate seems obvious, here’s a reminder of how quickly things have declined for Republicans. Just eight years ago George W. Bush received at least 40% of the Latino vote (some say 44%), enabling him to win the swing states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico. When he first ran for office Bush famously said that “family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande.” He consistently and sincerely reached out to Hispanic voters. And in 2004 he defied the anti-immigrant wing of the party by making a highly-publicized White House speech in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.
Just eight years later, Mitt Romney received just 23% Latino support of a much larger Latino electorate. Latino Decisions analysis shows that with just 35% support from Latinos – or three points fewer than his campaign’s stated goal of 38% Latino support – Romney would have won the popular vote outright (See slide six, titled “Watershed Moment.”)
To understand the role immigration plays as a threshold issue for many Latinos, consider that the 2012 ImpreMedia/Latino Decisions election eve poll of Latino voters found that nearly one-in-three Latino voters would be “more likely to vote Republican” if the GOP “took a leadership role in supporting comprehensive immigration reform, with an eventual pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.” Of note, one-in-five Latinos who voted for President Obama in 2012 (19.8%) said that they would be open to voting for Republicans if the Party came to the table on immigration. Combining this subset of Obama voters with the 23% of Latinos who voted for Mitt Romney, a pro-immigration reform Republican Party would be poised to again achieve the 40% threshold of Latino support that George W. Bush received in 2004 and many analysts say the GOP will need going forward to remain a nationally competitive party. The poll also underscored the personal lens through which most Latino voters view the immigration debate, finding that 60% of Latino voters nationwide “know somebody who is an undocumented immigrant.”
According to Frank Sharry:
With immigration reform now a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if,’ Republicans have a choice. They can help enact immigration reform now and get some of the credit from Latino voters, or they can continue to block reform and watch the Party’s problems with Latino voters become more acute. The problem is that continued obstructionism on immigration would threaten the Republican Party’s future, especially when reliably red states like Arizona and Texas would go the way of California.
Prominent Republican Senators, newly elected and out of office alike, are making similar points.
Newly elected Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker:
In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat…If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House. New York and California are for the foreseeable future unalterably Democrat. If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. ‘They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don’t exist anymore.’
Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) similarly reads the demographic writing on the wall regarding GOP problems with Latinos due to immigration, noting that the 2012 elections were:
…a clarion call that we have to [respond to]. Soon we are going to have to start worrying about Texas and Arizona. Unless we step up, we are going to be the minority party.