tags: Press Releases

The 2009 Elections and Immigration

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Candidates Drop Hard-Line Immigration Strategy, Stark Differences in Latino Voter Turn Out

The 2009 elections provide several insights into the current politics of immigration.  Below is a compilation of some of the key results of November 2009.  The results show that the dire predictions about a dramatic drop-off in Latino voter turnout across the board proved to be false – and numerous candidates rejected campaigning with an anti-immigrant wedge strategy so common in 2006 and 2008.
Latino Voters Were Courted Heavily by Democrat Jon Corzine in New Jersey and Turned Out in High Numbers

Latino voters defied conventional wisdom that they would not show up to the polls in an off-year election.  A recent Wall Street Journal article quoted an unnamed “official” asserting that Latino voters “didn’t come out to vote Tuesday.”  But a closer look at the numbers in New Jersey proves that assertion to be wrong.

Latino Voters Turned Out in New Jersey

  • Latino voters made up the same share of the electorate in 2008 and 2009 (9%) according to exit polls. (Similar exit poll figures are not available for 2005, New Jersey’s last gubernatorial election.)

  • Exit polls also showed that Latino voters favored Gov. Jon Corzine statewide by a 65% – 32% margin over the Governor-elect, Chris Christie.

  • According to analysis of official election results in the ten most Hispanic precincts in New Jersey by Bendixen & Associates, 75% of Latino voters supported Corzine in 2009 (Christie 23%, Daggett 2%).  According to a similar analysis by Bendixen & Associates in 2005, Latinos supported Corzine over Republican Doug Forrester 77% – 23%.  (While the 2009 exit polls were conducted only in English, about 50% of the Hispanic electorate in New Jersey is Spanish-dominant; therefore, statewide support for Corzine is generally thought to be higher than traditional exit poll results show.)

  • Fully 16% of Corzine voters were Latino in 2009, according to Bendixen & Associates.

Candidates Across the Board Avoided the Unsuccessful Anti-Immigration Wedge Strategy

In New Jersey and Virginia, both winning Republican gubernatorial candidates failed to make illegal immigration a signature attack issue, and even reached out to Latino voters in some instances, apparently learning the lessons of failed Republican candidates in 2006 and 2008.  Despite this change in strategy, they found themselves on the wrong side of key issues that Latino voters see as a sign of whether a candidate is with them or against them.

  • Winning New Jersey candidate Chris Christie cut a Spanish-language web ad and, as the Washington Post reported, winning Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell reached out “early and often to the region’s vast network of ethnic minority communities.”

  • Past analysis has shown that anti-immigrant campaigning and hard-line anti-immigration positions turn off both Latino and independent voters – a fate that did not befall either winning gubernatorial candidate, both of whom won independents handily.

Another Comprehensive Reformer Defeats a Hard-Line Candidate in the Closely Watched NY-23 Congressional Race

  • NY-23 will be represented by a Democrat for the first time in 100 years, after hard-line conservatives pushed the more moderate Dede Scozzafava out of the race with their support of third-party candidate Doug Hoffman—who was backed by anti-immigrant organizations. Hoffman went on to lose the race to Bill Owens, a Democrat who favors comprehensive immigration reform.  Despite the loss, anti-immigrant extremists have pledged to continue purging moderate voices from the Republican Party.

  • When asked what he would do about undocumented immigrants by Glenn Beck, Hoffman said he opposed “amnesty,” but offered no other solution.  Hoffman received the endorsement  of the virulently anti-immigrant Minuteman Political Action Committee.

  • Following the election, the director of the Minuteman PAC announced their plan to fight on: “And that’s why we’re not taking a moment’s rest. Hoffman’s razor-thin loss to liberal Bill Owens sends a loud warning shot across the bow of the Republican Beltway establishment: nominate conservative patriots for office or we’ll destroy your candidates.  And that’s exactly what we did in this race!!!”
  • At a debate during the campaign, Representative-elect Bill Owens stated, “I believe that we need to have comprehensive immigration reform and…as part of that program I think we need to make sure that we have appropriate guest worker programs so that farmers and other businesses have the appropriate numbers of workers who are legally in the country.  I think that that’s very important, I believe that we should enforce the laws that we have on the books, but I think it’s very important that we have comprehensive…immigration reform.  Because that is going to allow us to get the job done and that’s extremely important for the North Country economy.”

  • The results of the NY-23 Congressional race follow the pattern of recent elections. During the 2008 cycle, in 20 of 22 competitive U.S. House and Senate races, the Democratic candidate who was more supportive of comprehensive immigration reform defeated the Republican hard-liner.   This despite the fact the Republican Party and its candidates spent millions of dollars and ran hundreds of ads attempting to use immigration as a wedge issue in scores of races throughout the country.

Voters Soundly Rejected Anti-Immigrant Initiative in Denver, CO

Denver’s “Initiative 300” would have required police to impound vehicles belonging to unlicensed drivers.  The initiative was successfully placed on the ballot by anti-immigrant leaders with the intent of targeting undocumented immigrants who are barred from obtaining driver’s licenses by state statute.  Despite the fanfare, the initiative failed at the ballot box.

  • The Denver Elections Division reports that voters rejected the anti-immigrant initiative by a wide margin:  69.5% – 30.5%.

  • The appeal of anti-immigrant campaigns has clearly faded in Denver since the passage of a similar initiative, called “Initiative 100,” in 2008, which voters supported the measure by 56.56% – 46.44%.

  • The rejection of this initiative by Denver voters is an indicator of voters’ attitudes on immigration in the state, and may have implications for the 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate.

In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg Showed Strong Support Among Latino Voters, In Part Due to His Immigration Stance

In New York City, Latinos backed candidate Bill Thompson (D) over incumbent Mayor Mike Bloomberg (I) by a 55% – 43% margin.  Both candidates aggressively courted Latinos and supported comprehensive immigration reform.  While Bloomberg still lost this demographic to the Democrat Thompson, his margin of support was higher than most other Republican and right-of-center Independent candidates in recent history.  In his victory speech, Mayor Bloomberg called for comprehensive immigration reform, saying, “we’ll continue to fight for real immigration reform in Washington because Nueva York es una ciudad donde adoremos todos las culturas.”

In Virginia, Lack of Latino Enthusiasm for Democratic candidate Creigh Deed’s Shows that the Latino Vote Can Not Be Taken for Granted

The difference in base voter performance in the 2009 Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections was stark.  While African American and Latino voters turned out in large numbers for Jon Corzine in New Jersey, the enthusiasm to turn out for Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds in Virginia did not materialize.
According to exit polls, Latino voters made up 3% of the electorate in 2009 (down from 5% in 2008).  Many observers have pointed out that Deeds’ history of voting against the interests of the Latino community while he served in the State Senate and his lack of a strategy to appeal to Latino voters had a clear result – Latinos stayed home.
The stark difference between Latino voter enthusiasm in Virginia and New Jersey make clear that the Latino vote cannot be taken for granted.