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No Laughing Matter: Passing Immigration Reform Will Help Republicans Compete for Latino Voters

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As the Associated Press reported yesterday, “President Barack Obama told House Republicans Wednesday that they would benefit politically more than Democrats would from supporting a comprehensive immigration overhaul, lawmakers present said … The assertion prompted some ‘light chuckles’ from certain Republican members, while others reacted more like Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who said, ‘There’s something to it.’”

“The best jokes are funny because they are true,” said Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice.  “The Republican Party only has to look back 8 years to see how fall it has fallen with the Latino community.  George W. Bush – a pro-immigration reform nominee of a largely pro-immigration reform Republican Party – received over 40% of the Latino vote in 2004, while Mitt Romney – an anti-immigrant nominee of a largely anti-immigrant Republican Party – received only 23% of the Latino vote of a much larger Latino electorate in 2012.  While the Republicans’ Latino problem runs deeper than just immigration, the Party won’t get a hearing on other issues until they redo their image on immigration.  And that won’t happen until they work with Democrats to pass commonsense immigration reform.  If Republicans in Congress play a leadership role in passing reform, they can once again compete for the persuadable third of Latino voters who vote Democratic today but are open to voting Republican tomorrow.  If they don’t, they will continue to cede the vast majority of the Latino vote to the Democratic Party, and write their party’s obituary in the process.”

In addition to the real world examples on display in 2004 and 2012, a recent analysis from Latino Decisions demonstrates the political costs and benefits of Republicans’ shifting position on immigration.

  • Latino Decisions’ 2012 Election Eve poll of Latino voters found that one-in-five Latinos voted for President Obama in 2012 but said that they would be open to voting for Republicans if the Party leads on immigration.  Combining this one-in-five subset of Obama voters with the 23% of Latinos who voted for Mitt Romney shows that a pro-immigration reform GOP would be poised to again achieve the 40% threshold of Latino support that George W. Bush received in 2004 and many analysts say the GOP will need going forward to remain a nationally competitive party, especially as demographic trends accelerate for the 2014 and 2016 elections.
  • Earlier this month, Latino Decisions conducted a poll of Latino voters on behalf of America’s Voice/Service Employees International Union (SEIU)/ National Council of La Raza (NCLR) that found that if Republicans change their position on immigration and embrace a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, they can reset their image with Latinos.  Nationwide, 44% of Latino voters said they would be more likely to vote Republican if the GOP takes a leadership role in passing immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  This includes 43% of Latinos who voted for Obama in 2012 and 49% of Latinos who identify as Independents.

In addition, fully 52% of Latino voter respondents in the March Latino Decisions poll report having voted for a Republican candidate in the past.  Thinking about the 2014 elections, 70% of Latino voters already indicate a strong preference for either Ds (56%) or Rs (14%).  However, 29% remain undecided (7% lean D, 2% lean R, and 20% remain in the middle).  If Republicans are again going to compete for a sizeable contingent of Latino voters, they must overcome their anti-immigrant recent history and embrace immigration reform.  The poll found that 64% of Latino voters blame Republicans for the failure to pass immigration reform in the last ten years and 60% anticipate that Republicans would be most to blame if reform fails again in 2013.

Said Tramonte, “Bluntly, Democratic candidates have essentially maxed out their Latino voter percentages in the past few election cycles, while Republican candidates can’t go much lower.  As the number of eligible Latino voters grows larger with every election cycle, the Republicans can either share credit on immigration and again compete for swing Latino voters or watch GOP candidates run against the stiff, permanent headwind of demographic realities.”

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform