White voters are abandoning the Democratic Party because they feel left out, so the GOP should react by wooing Latino voters, President Barack Obama said in an interview with National Public Radio.
“There’s a burden on Democrats to need to make very clear to a broad swath of [white] working-class and middle-class voters that we are, in fact, fighting for them. And there’s also an obligation on the part of the Republican Party to make sure that they are broadening their coalition to reach out to the new face of America,” Obama said in the interview, released Monday.
Obama’s comments align him with many members of the GOP’s establishment wing, who argue that a high-immigration policy can aid business allies and help win ballot-box support from low-income Latino immigrants. That policy is endorsed by the GOP’s business allies, who want the GOP-led Congress to pass immigration laws in 2015 that deliver more workers and customers to their doors.
That view is opposed by the GOP’s populist wing, whose leaders argue that a low-immigration policy would spur 2016 support for the GOP from lower-income white, Latino and black swing voters in critical Midwest states. The leaders in this group include Sen. Jeff Sessions and likely 2016 candidate, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and they generally oppose Obama’s Nov. 20 decision to award work permits to five million unauthorized migrants.
Fewer U.S.-born Americans have jobs now than were employed to November 2007, despite a working-age population growth of 11 million.
Low-income white voters have massively shifted to the GOP since the 1990s.
That shift is highlighted by the November election, where GOP candidates won 60 percent of white voters, giving the GOP a majority in the Senate. The GOP also won 36 percent of the Latino vote and 50 percent of the Asian vote. The electorate was 75 percent white, 12 percent Latino and three percent Asian.
When asked about that loss, Obama blamed Democratic messaging.
“There’s sometimes a gap in perceptions that we have to bridge,” he said, while claiming centralized Obamacare health-care system should be welcomed by lower-income voters.
Kentucky “is one of the best states in using the Affordable Care Act to insure huge numbers of working-class white voters. It’s just they don’t call it Obamacare; they call it something else,” he said.
However, Obama acknowledged that his policies haven’t helped lower-income white voters gain jobs or reverse the slide in wages since 2001.
“I do think that right now there are a lot of white working-class voters who haven’t seen enough progress economically in their own lives,” Obama said in the interview.
“They hear about an immigration debate or they hear about, you know, debate surrounding Ferguson, and they think, ‘I’m being left out. Nobody seems to be thinking about how tough it is for me right now,’ or, ‘I’ve been downscaled, I’ve lost my job,'” he said in the interview, which was conducted Dec. 18.
“I think there’s a legitimate sense of loss, particularly among men, who have seen manufacturing diminish; construction has been in the tank,” he said.
However, the GOP should instead focus its attention on Latinos, not on lower-income voters, Obama said.
“We [Democrats] have got to speak to those concerns. Now, the flip side is, you know, nobody would be happier than me to see the Republican Party try to broaden its coalition. Immigration reform, by the way, was a great opportunity for the Republican Party to do so,” he said.
Obama also offered tacit backing for the GOP’s business-backed establishment wing, which strongly supports greater inflow of foreign workers. The wing includes former President George Bush, who minimized enforcement of immigration laws, and changed mortgage rules to help win political support from lower-income immigrants.
“George Bush — I disagreed with a lot of issues, but he was absolutely right in his position on promoting comprehensive immigration reform, reaching out to the Latino community, and, as a consequence, did pretty well,” Obama said.
In 2004, Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote when competing against an aloof, politically clumsy Boston billionaire — Sen. John Kerry — during the housing bubble that aided many migrant Latino workers. Sen. John McCain, in contrast, won 31 percent of Latino voters — and a ticket back to the Senate — after he touted an immigration amnesty prior to his 2008 campaign.
Multiple polls show that American voters want immigration policy to aid Americans, not immigrants. For example, a September poll by Paragon Insights showed that large slices of the Democratic coalition would be “much more likely” to vote for a GOP candidate who says that “the first goal of immigration policy needs to be getting unemployed Americans back to work — not importing more low-wage workers to replace them.”
Thirty-eight percent of African-Americans, 39 percent of Democratic women, 36 percent of Latinos and roughly 47 percent of Midwesterners said they would be much more likely to support a GOP candidate who favors the employment of Americans.