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Immigration, the 2014 Elections, and Looking Forward

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Washington, DC – America’s Voice is a sponsoring organization of the Latino Decisions’ Latino voter Election Eve poll.  The third installment of data on Latino voters’ candidate and policy preferences will be released today at a 12:30 Eastern event at the National Press Club (with livestream and remote access available here).  For poll results already released, visit www.latinovote2014.com.  To obtain the embargoed full data set, please email katy@newpartners.com

In the meantime, here is Frank Sharry’s take on some key immigration takeaways from last night’s elections and what it all means going forward.  Sharry is the Executive Director of America’s Voice.

  • Anti-Immigrant politicking was not a lifeline for RepublicansLed by Scott Brown in New Hampshire, Republican Senate candidates across the country ran hard on anti-immigrant politics.  Anti-immigrant organizations and allies were all-in on the NH Senate race, with Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) calling the race the “epicenter” of the fight on immigration executive action.  However, Brown went down to defeat and per the network exit polls, NH voters preferred “legal status” over “deportation” of most unauthorized immigrants by a 57%-40% margin.  In Michigan, Terri Lynn Land’s first general election ad hit Democrat Scott Peters on immigration, but Peters also survived.  While some Republican candidates who espoused anti-immigrant sentiment won (unsurprising in a Republican wave election), it’s hard to find any examples of races in which anti-immigrant campaigning actually made the difference.  In fact, the three Republican Senators who voted for the Senate immigration bill in 2013 and were up for re-election last night – Lamar Alexander in Tennessee, Susan Collins in Maine, and Lindsey Graham in South Carolina – each won their re-elections handily.
  • Americans’ views on immigration remain largely intact – they want action and they strongly favor legalization over deportation: Last night’s network exit polls asked what to do about “most illegal immigrants working in the U.S.” and, by a 57%-39% margin, voters nationwide preferred “offered legal status” over “deportation.”
  • Immigration was a defining and personal issue for Latino voters: Election eve polling conducted by Latino Decisions nationwide and in 10 states explored Latinos’ views on the election and key issues.  While the full set of polling results will be released at today’s 12:30 Eastern event at the National Press Club, results already released from the Latino polling demonstrate that immigration was defining and personal for Latino voters.  A plurality–45%–of Latino voters nationwide said immigration reform was the most important issue facing the Latino community that politicians should address; 34% ranked the economy or job creation first, while 21% mentioned education/schools, and 17% said health care. A combined two-thirds of Latino voters nationwide (67%) said that the issue of immigration was either the most important issue in their decision to vote and their candidate preference (33% said “the most”) or “one of the important issues” (34%).  Underscoring the personal relevance of the immigration debate for many respondents, 58% of Latino voters nationwide report knowing an undocumented immigrant. More information available at www.latinovote2014.com.
  • The delay on executive action did not save Democrats and may have hurt them in multiple races: President Obama’s decision to delay immigration executive action did not help save any of the Democratic Senate seats as proponents of delay had hoped.  Meanwhile, the delay was a missed opportunity to energize Latino voters, mobilize progressives and provoke Republicans into an overreaction.  The delay did not help Democrats in several Latino-heavy races: Colorado’s Senate race between incumbent Democrat Mark Udall and Republican Cory Gardner; Colorado’s 6th congressional district race between Democrat Andrew Romanoff and incumbent Republican Mike Coffman; Florida’s 26th congressional district race between incumbent Democrat Joe Garcia and Republican Carlos Curbelo; Nevada’s 4th congressional district race between incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford and Republican Cresent Hardy; and Texas 23rd congressional district race between incumbent Democrat Pete Gallego and Republican Will Hurd.
  • Looking forward, the idea that Republicans will now tackle substantial immigration reform is laughable: Despite the claims of some Republicans, don’t believe the Republican hype that they are ready to tackle immigration reform legislation in Congress.  As we’ve noted, the GOP hopes to try to intimidate the President against acting and a claim that flies in the face of recent Republican votes in Congress and politicking on the campaign trail.  The GOP fears it precisely because they know they won’t be able to contain the reaction and that will cement their brand as anti-Latino and anti-immigrant.  Add in the dynamics of a Republican presidential primary season and we just don’t buy the notion that the GOP could – or wants to – seriously address real immigration reform to better the lives of undocumented immigrants in the nation.  Instead, they want to keep stopping progress and blaming Obama in hopes of depressing Latino turnout in 2016.  Wishful thinking from pundits about Republican interest in immigration reform is belied by six years of obstruction and six months of lurching further to the right.
  • Looking forward, Democrats need to lean into immigration ahead of 2016 – it’s good politics and the right thing to do: After last night, Democrats should re-learn the lesson that leaning into immigration is a winner – especially in the run up to the 2016 election where the changing American electorate is likely to show up in full force.  Moreover, executive action is the right thing to do.  If President Obama acts boldly and states and local jurisdictions continue to enact pro-immigrant policies, the majority of undocumented immigrants will be able to live reasonably normal lives – without fear of deportation and police profiling, and with drivers licenses, access to in-state tuition rates in state university systems, and the ability to travel freely – in the interim period until a future Congress, one that is capable of enacting reform, finally does its job.  We just don’t buy the notion that Republicans are serious about tackling real immigration reform.  Americans want action and progress on immigration, not more of the same status quo.  Democrats should be looking forward to this fight, not running from it.

Follow Frank Sharry and America’s Voice on Twitter @FrankSharry and @AmericasVoice.
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