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On Immigration, Republican Party Sides with Pete Wilson over Political Science

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Research Finds Anti-immigrant Ads Don’t Mobilize White voters, But Do Mobilize Latino Voters

While it is no longer breaking news that Republicans have rejected their own post-2012 consensus to rebrand their image to Latino voters and reposition themselves on immigration policy, the rationale behind the GOP’s decision to ignore recent electoral history remains unclear.  Remarkably, Republicans are now moving even further to the anti-immigrant right as GOP candidates run ads hostile to immigration reform and immigrants and House Republicans cede immigration policy making to the likes of Steve King and his allies.

As Alexander Burns writes in Politico, “Three major Republican Senate hopefuls – Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Scott Brown of New Hampshire and Terri Lynn Land of Michigan – are airing commercials blasting their Democratic opponents for supporting “amnesty” and attacking “lawlessness” and “chaos” on the border. Other candidates are expected to join them.”

What will be the impact of such advertising?  In a new analysis titled, “Blowback: Why Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric and Ads Hurt the Republican Party,” Latino Decisions senior analyst Dr. Adrian D. Pantoja reviews recent academic studies to assess the political effects of anti-immigrant campaigning.  Unfortunately for Republicans, their lurch to the right on immigration seems to mobilize Latino voters more than the GOP’s base.  Accoding to Dr. Pantoja:

As congressional lawmakers return home for the summer recess and campaign for the upcoming mid-term election, Republicans believe immigration is an issue they can use to mobilize their base.  Specifically, many are calculating that voters are frustrated with the present crisis at the border and will respond positively to rhetoric that is tough on immigration.  Do Republican voters respond positively to anti-immigrant rhetoric and ads?  What effects do these same messages have on Latino voters and other segments of the electorate?  Political science research shows that anti-immigrant rhetoric and ads do not mobilize Republican voters, but rather lead to higher turnout among Latino voters who are angered by this campaign strategy.  The end result is ‘blowback’, or a situation in which a strategy creates the opposite desired effect.  A review of the scholarly literature and survey data from Latino Decisions conclusively demonstrates that anti-immigrant rhetoric and ads hurt the Republican Party.

In a recent study by Merolla et al., (2012) an experimental design was used to analyze the effects different immigration media ads have on Latinos and non-Latinos alike.  The results indicate that anti-immigrant ads had no effect in stimulating White voters, including White Republicans.  However, these same ads caused Latinos to want to participate in politics at higher rates.  This makes intuitive sense given that immigration is not an abstract issue for most Latino voters; immigration policy disproportionately affects their immediately family relative to other groups. In a June 2014 survey by Latino Decisions, 62% of Latino voters indicated they know someone who is undocumented. Among those respondents, 91% said that these individuals are friends and/or family. In light of this information, it is unsurprising that Latino voters represent the segment of the electorate that is most likely to be activated by negative political ads and rhetoric directed at immigrants.

Meanwhile, the Republicans’ embrace of anti-immigrant policy and positioning on the campaign trail is ratcheting up.  As Burns notes in Politico:

So much for that fresh start with Latino voters…In a dramatic departure from their determination only months ago to win a second look from that rapidly-growing community, national Republicans have embarked on a sustained campaign to make the immigration crisis a central issue in 2014 and exhort voters to punish the White House for failing to lock down the U.S.-Mexico border…Gone are the days of tiptoeing around the real and perceived sensitivities of the Latino community, which holds powerful sway over the Electoral College in presidential elections…It’s hard to overstate how sharply the GOP’s new strategy breaks with the party’s determination to enact sweeping new immigration policy in the aftermath of the 2012 election, when Obama won more than 7 in 10 Latino votes and prompted the release of a grim Republican National Committee report to endorse immigration reform as its primary policy recommendation.

After including a link and excerpt to Burns’s story, Politico’s Mike Allen noted in his daily “Playbook” tipsheet, “Playbook Facts Of Life: Digging yourself deeper for 2016 (where you’re weak) to run up the score in 2014 (where you’re strong) doesn’t seem like the smoothest move.”

The Burns Politico piece concludes with quotes from former Governor Pete Wilson (R-CA), the architect of California’s infamous 1994 Proposition 187 and a man who did more than any Democratic operative to turn California enduringly blue.  Says Wilson of the GOP’s recent run to the anti-immigrant right, “It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the rule of law…Congress is on record as supporting the securing of the border … They have not achieved it and that, I think, is not a forgivable sin.”

According to Frank Sharry of America’s Voice:

Pete Wilson and the California Republican Party know something about sins that won’t be forgiven.  They turned a once purple state into a bright blue state by doing the same things other Republicans are doing in other parts of the country.  It leads one to conclude that the national GOP is intent on following the California GOP into obscurity.

Read the full Latino Decisions analysis, “Blowback: Why Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric and Ads Hurt the Republican Party”