For at least a few minutes after Latino voters clobbered Mitt Romney at the ballot box in 2012, Republicans seemed cognizant of the fact that the party would need to undergo a major overhaul if was determined to remain viable on a national level.
Instead, the GOP, following the lead of Rep. Steve King and Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (a.k.a. @ImmigrationGOP), lurched to the far right following a series of anti-immigrant votes in Congress, with nearly all 2016 Republican candidates — believing they just need to increase turnout among white and older voters in order to win the White House in 2016 — following suit.
But as Ron Brownstein highlights in a new piece this week, new data from Pew shows these primary voters tend to be older, less-educated, and vastly to the right of their own party and candidates on immigration — meaning it won’t be enough to make up for the massive voter deficit Republicans face in 2016.
Catering to this base may work in a primary — “whites cast at least 90 percent of the vote in 18 of the 20 the 2012 GOP primaries,” Brownstein writes — but when most Republicans and mainstream Americans favor legalization for undocumented immigrants, this strategy will ultimately mean trouble.
After years of class and generational realignment in American politics, the GOP primary electorate increasingly reflects the influence of older and working-class voters. Voters older than 50 cast at least 55 percent of the ballots in all 20 states with an exit poll in the 2012 Republican race, and at least 60 percent of the vote in all but four them. Non-college Republicans represented a majority of voters in 13 of those 20 states, and at least 45 percent in four more. While hardline positions on immigration could complicate Republican outreach to minorities in the general election, that potential conflict is unlikely to matter much in the primaries: Whites cast at least 90 percent of the vote in 18 of the 20 the 2012 GOP primaries with exit polls last time.
The distance between blue-collar and older Republicans and other voters are clear on the central choices relating both to legal and undocumented immigrants, according to the figures provided to Next America by Pew from its national survey released last week. Fully 45 percent of non-college Republican partisans (including independents who lean toward the party) said that undocumented immigrants in the U.S. should not be provided legal status. Only 28 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed. Most college-educated Republicans believe the estimated 11-million plus undocumented immigrants should be allowed to apply for permanent residency (35 percent) or citizenship (31 percent). Among non-college Republicans, a combined 51 percent said the undocumented should be allowed to apply for citizenship (30 percent) or legal status short of citizenship (21 percent).
Similarly, 45 percent of Republicans over 50, compared to only 36 percent of younger GOP partisans, think that the undocumented should not be provided any legal status. Just 25 percent of older Republicans, as opposed to 37 percent of the younger, say that the undocumented should be allowed to apply for citizenship. (About one-fourth of each group supports a pathway to legal status short of citizenship.)
In fact, the primary voters Republicans are seeking not only believe immigrants don’t deserve a chance to become a part of the American fabric, but also appear to hold a deep dislike of these hardworking families:
But non-college and older Republicans were much more negative than either group. Among non-college Republicans, 29 percent said immigrants are strengthening American society, while 62 percent viewed them mostly as a “burden.” The balance was even more lopsided among Republicans older than 50: 67 percent of them viewed immigrants mostly as a “burden” while just 23 percent said they mostly strengthened America.
In comparison, across the entire population almost four-fifths of Latinos, nearly two-thirds of millennials, just over three-fifths of all college graduates, and 55 percent of African-Americans say immigrants mostly benefit American society.
That visceral recoil to immigrants from large portions of the GOP base underscores the challenge that the party faces in trying to appeal to a diversifying electorate while also holding support from the older, working-class and rural elements of American society most unsettled by demographic change.
This should be another startling eye-opener for Republicans, and they should be paying attention, but we’ll see how this really plays out in the GOP 2016 contest.
We’ve seen Rick Santorum and Scott Walker head to the extremes, while Mr. Immigration Champion Marco Rubio ran from his own bill. Rand Paul literally ran from DREAMers, and Chris Christie tries to downplay his record. They all want to end Obama’s immigration executive actions, despite the harm that would bring to millions of families.
So, Republicans should have learned their lesson by now, but they seem intent on a replay of 2012.