As we approach two full weeks of a government shutdown and a looming decision on the debt ceiling, the nation-at-large might be tempted to overlook efforts by Republican Congressmen to work toward comprehensive immigration reform. Yet those with an interest in the long-term future of the Republican Party, whether at the Congressional, state or national level, would do well to remember that the current situation in Washington does not make such efforts any less important. In fact an argument can be made that however the politics of the shutdown and debt ceiling are eventually resolved, there are going to be certain areas of the country, even Congressional districts currently held by Republicans, where the GOP will need to do some work to repair its image. And at least in California’s San Joaquin Valley, immigration reform affords them a chance to do so.
Earlier this week, Magellan conducted polling for a coalition of pro-immigration reform groups in California Congressional Districts 10, 21 and 22 – a write-up of the results can be found here. The headline on Politico’s front page reads “Polls pressure GOP on immigration”, language which in the context of public-opinion research usually describes a situation where interest groups attempt to force intransigent public officials into doing the right thing. The right thing as defined, of course, by the interest groups. But that is far from an accurate reading in this instance. As Seung Min Kim notes in Politico:
Denham and Valadao have been outspoken this week about pushing Congress on comprehensive immigration reform, appearing at a pro-reform rally Tuesday that attracted thousands of demonstrators to the National Mall. Separately, Denham appeared with key faith leaders at a Capitol Hill news conference calling for immigration reform.
Here, then, we have GOP Congressmen, specifically Jeff Denham (District 10) and David Valadao (District 21), pressuring their fellow Congressmen with a call for comprehensive reform. And the results of our polling provide them with a strong rationale for doing so. Before we get into the actual results, however, it is useful to get a sense of the composition of these districts:
- California Congressional District 10: CD 10 consists of Stanislaus County and a portion of San Joaquin County. The largest city is Modesto. The party registration as of February 2013 is 39.70% Democrat, 38.45% Republican, and 21.85% Declined to State/Other. CD 10 is 40% Latino. President Obama carried CD 10 with 50.5% of the vote, while Congressman Denham received 52.7% of the vote.
- California Congressional District 21: CD 21 consists of all of Kings County and portions of Fresno, Kerns, and Tulare Counties. It includes Hanford and part of Bakersfield. The party registration as of February 2013 is 47.17% Democrat, 32.44% Republican, and 20.39% Declined to State/Other. CD 21 is 71% Latino. President Obama carried CD 21 with 54.6% of the vote, while Congressman Valadao received 57.8% of the vote.
- California Congressional District 22: CD 22 consists of portions of Fresno and Tulare Counties. It includes Clovis, Tulare and Visalia, and a portion of the city of Fresno. The party registration as of February 2013 is 33.47% Democrat, 45.04% Republican, and 21.49% Declined to State/Other. CD 22 is 45% Latino. Mitt Romney carried CD 22 with 56.6% of the vote, while Congressman Devin Nunes received 61.9% of the vote.
A brief look reveals that, to varying extents, these districts are distinct from other GOP districts around the country because of their large Latino populations. Even CD 22, the only one of the three carried by Romney, is 45% Latino. And so if the Republican Party wanted to test the waters on comprehensive immigration reform, to gauge public sentiment in districts that might be otherwise predisposed to elect Republicans, they could do a lot worse than these three districts. Now, on to some analysis of the polling:
- Broad Immigration Reform Support: Respondents were asked to consider legislation that would: significantly increase border security, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, make sure that undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with no criminal record register for legal status, and provide for an eventual pathway to citizenship. In each district, support for this legislation was over 70%, and near majorities in each district expressed strong support.
- Sponsorship of Immigration Reform: Respondents were then asked to consider an immigration reform plan that would ensure a pathway to citizenship after undocumented immigrants fulfilled certain obligations. When asked how Congressman Denham’s sponsorship of such a plan would affect their vote, 43% of respondents in CD 10 said that they would be more likely to vote for him, compared to only 26% who would be less likely. The other two districts responded similarly, with 38% more likely in CD 21 and 35% more likely in CD 22. Interestingly, in CD 21 (35% No Difference) and CD 22 (41% No Difference), sponsorship of the plan inspired more ambivalence than disapproval among the respondents. Taking all of this into account, it is difficult to make the argument that any of these three Congressmen sponsoring a reform plan, even if that plan included a pathway to citizenship, would be politically damaging for them among their constituents.
- Demand for a Vote on Immigration Reform: Respondents in each district were asked whether Speaker Boehner should allow a yes or no vote in the House on an immigration reform plan. They were informed that a majority of members in the House have expressed support for such a plan, and that the reason a vote has not already taken place is that Speaker Boehner has said that he will not allow it unless a majority of Republican members support it. Knowing this, a majority of respondents in each district think that Boehner should allow a vote. If nothing else this shows a lack of concern for internal House Republican dynamics, and a pragmatic feeling among voters that if the support is there a vote should be allowed.
Taken as a whole, these results show that the voters, at least in these three districts, see the need for immigration reform. To the extent that these Republican Congressmen work toward immigration reform in the House, their constituents support them in those efforts.
By Ryan Winger