During the last few election cycles, most pundits, reporters, and talking heads have asserted that immigration is the new “third rail” in American politics. They said it had become the new wedge issue for conservatives to use against moderates to help them gain an edge. But as is often true with so-called “conventional wisdom,” these arguments actually have more in common with fiction than fact.
Immigration08.com was set up to provide a reasoned counterpoint to the simple assertions of mainstream thinking on immigration, and challenge conventional wisdom when it is wrong. Starting with the election of 2006, a group of polling experts and political strategists began to track bellwether races where the issue of immigration was playing an important role. Their goal was to take an honest and thorough look at the immigration wedge strategy and evaluate how it worked (or did not) in the hottest Congressional and gubernatorial races.
Frank Sharry, Simon Rosenberg, and pollsters such as Celinda Lake and David Mermin of Lake Research Partners and Pete Brodnitz of Benenson Strategy Group used empirical research rather than assumptions to drive analysis of the immigration wedge strategy. Their work in 2006 showed that immigration almost never works to put conservatives over the top, and that candidates who embrace comprehensive immigration reform are not only holding even, but actually surging ahead in some areas because they take a practical approach to addressing the problem of undocumented immigration.
The same was true in 2007 and is shaping up that way again in 2008. Recalling the presidential primaries of just last year, the same tired pundits were again asserting that immigration would play a decisive role in the presidential race. Perhaps it did, but not in the way they imagined: on the Republican side, Mitt Romney ran thousands of anti-immigrant spots against John McCain, and lost. One-trick pony Tom Tancredo never gained any traction, and born-again anti-immigrant campaigner Mike Huckabee peaked in Iowa, never to be seen again. On the Democratic side, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama steered a consistent path for comprehensive reform, and Obama continues to advocate common sense immigration reform as he and McCain battle for the center of the U.S. electorate.
One point that conventional wisdom does have right is the fact that the fast-growing Latino and immigrant vote will hold major sway in 2008 at the Presidential level and down the ballot. The road to the White House travels right through Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Florida, key battleground states with large numbers of Latino voters. While Obama currently holds a strong edge with this key group, McCain could compete in some areas for their support, particularly if he strays back toward his maverick ideals on immigration instead of trying to appeal to GOP conservatives.
The immigration issue is particularly important to this group of voters, because the debate has become more about what kind of people we want in this country, rather than how many visas we should offer and what the process should be for obtaining one. As a result of the vitriol spewed during the House and Senate debates on immigration in 2005, 2006, and 2007, the immigrant community has been galvanized. Like no other previous election, immigrant voters may very well decide the outcome of national, Congressional, and local races. Candidates will be hard-pressed to attract these voters if they continually beat up on their parents, friends, and neighbors.
In 2008, immigration08.com will once again be the best resource available for those following the politics of immigration. We will be conducting our own public opinion research through Lake Research Partners and Benenson Strategy Group, as well as tapping their insights on immigration dynamics. Joining them will be Simon Rosenberg of NDN, Frank Sharry of America’s Voice, and other leading strategists. We will identify the top races across the country where the immigration issue figures prominently, and analyze the candidates’ tactics, policies, and performance in November.
Several factors will help guide which races we cover. Is a candidate using immigration as a wedge issue? Is he or she running on a platform of comprehensive immigration reform? Is immigration a high-profile issue in the district? Are Latino and immigrant citizens registered to vote in large numbers, and will they make a difference in the outcome?
We will start out with a number of races and pare back the list to a few key targets by mid-October, as the campaigns develop and it becomes clear which races are the most important to watch on this issue. These will be the bellwether races we believe set the tone for the direction of the debate nationwide, and provide important insight into the national mood on this issue. Our experts will provide both pre- and post-election commentary via conference calls, blogs, and the release of data and analysis, and will be available to talk to the media throughout the campaign season.