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Divergent Party Platforms on Immigration, Motivated Latino Voters Could Swing Election

You would think this election is going to turn on lipstick and pigs. For some voters, maybe it will. But for immigrant and Latino voters, there is one looming issue that lies just below the surface: immigration. A new poll released just this week by NDN reveals that there is a high price to pay for disparaging broad swaths of legal immigrants: they are surging to the polls in record numbers, supporting candidates who support comprehensive immigration reform, and punishing those who don’t.

The immigrant bashing of the last few election cycles has been enshrined in the official party platform of at least one major political party, while the other party reflects a common sense approach to solving the problem. Guess which party is tapping the disgust of the Latino voter? Poll after poll confirms that there is a tectonic shift of Latinos to the Democratic Party.

Immigration reform is a defining issue for the rapidly-expanding Latino voter population, who comprise a major voting bloc in critical battleground states and will mobilize during this election cycle in unprecedented numbers. Additionally, as the respective party platforms make clear, the wide divergence in immigration policy approaches offers voters a stark choice between parties and candidates. As recent polling illustrates, candidates promoting common sense immigration reform policies stand to gain from these dynamics, while candidates promoting or associated with restrictionist, anti-immigrant agendas will suffer the consequences on Election Day.

The two parties offered very different visions of a federal approach to immigration policy during their respective conventions in recent weeks. The Democratic platform stated support for “a system that requires undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens,” while the Republican platform stated, “We oppose amnesty. The rule of law suffers if government policies encourage or reward illegal activity.” Rep. Tom Tancredo, the leading voice of the anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party, stated that his views were “pretty much accepted [by the platform committee],” and as a result of this victory, there was “no purpose in doing anything at the convention to raise hell about it.”

These policy distinctions are not being lost on immigrant and Latino voters. Earlier this week, NDN released the results of their eagerly-anticipated poll of how immigration is playing out in the key battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico. NDN found that voters in each of these states overwhelmingly support comprehensive immigration reform, including “a ‘path to citizenship’ for undocumented immigrants”; that despite the prevalence of anti-immigrant rhetoric and hate speech, voters “have a positive view of undocumented immigrants, believing that they have come here to work and seek a better life, are not taking jobs from American citizens and are not interested in receiving public handouts”; and that voters assign blame to the federal government for failing to enact a sensible fix for the broken immigration system. NDN also found that the Democratic Party and Senator Barack Obama “are more trusted to handle the immigration issue than U.S. Sen. John McCain and the Republicans.” Despite his past track record of leadership on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform, Senator John McCain “has been unable to distance himself from the recent collapse of the Republican brand with Hispanic voters.”

Since 2004, Republican opposition to immigration reform legislation and support of harsh, anti-immigrant policies has pushed Latinos into the Democratic fold – the Pew Hispanic Center found that from July 2006 to December 2007, the percentage point gap in partisan affiliation among Latinos jumped from a 21-point margin to a 34-point margin in favor of Democrats. This margin could prove massively influential given Latino mobilization and registration efforts underway. The We Are America Alliance is engaged in an unprecedented civic engagement effort that promises to register 500,000 and mobilize 1 million Latino voters in 13 key states.

“When the election post-mortems begin, pundits will realize that the immigration issue played a decisive role throughout the country,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “This is a defining election and defining issue for immigrant and Latino voters, who will vote in unprecedented numbers. At the end of the day, these voters will prove to candidates peddling extremist and short-sighted views that you just can’t put lipstick on an anti-immigrant pig.”

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