Polling shows little gain for GOP from immigration reform

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

Latino advocates and some Republican leaders say the GOP can boost its Hispanic support at the polls by backing a large-scale immigration bill.

But there is little or no evidence to back the claim — and much historical and analytical data showing that the vast majority of Latinos support the Democratic Party because they prefer its big-government policies to the GOP’s small-government policies.

“The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens, and we realize there are many issues in which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens,” claimed Sen. John McCain, who won just 31 percent of the Latino vote after championing a conditional amnesty in 2006.

Support for Latino immigration “is a preeminent issue for those citizens,” said McCain, who has allied with Democrats to push through an immigration rewrite this year.

His claim is being echoed by groups that favor some form of path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and a continued inflow of immigrant workers.

A Jan. 23 briefing by the polling firm Latino Decisions said 31 percent of Hispanics would be “more likely to vote Republican” if the GOP took the lead role in passing a “comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship.”

But the company’s data also showed that 11 percent of Latinos were less likely to vote GOP if it pushed such a bill, and 48 percent of Latinos said it would have no effect. Based on that poll, the survey firm speculated the GOP could get up to 42 percent of the Latino vote in a future election.

However, other surveys shows that Latino voters are far more favorable to big government that GOP voters.

An April 2012 survey by the Pew Research Hispanic Center showed that 75 percent of Latinos want a “bigger government providing more services … while 19 percent say they would rather have a smaller government with fewer services.”

Even the Latino Decision report that predicted a GOP gain among Latinos, counsels Republicans to downplay opposition to Obamacare and to minimize support for upper-income tax cuts.

To win Latinos, the GOP should support amnesty for children of undocumented immigrants, fund Spanish-language education and praise Latino immigrants by declaring that immigrants “enrich our soul” and that “diversity becomes a strength,” said the company’s report.

But company co-founder Gary Segura punted when The Daily Caller asked him for polling evidence that a substantial percent of Latinos would switch to the free-market oriented GOP.

“40 percent of Latino voters voted for the GOP [in 2004] … so we know that the inter-election swing is POTENTIALLY large,” insisted Segura, who also works as a Chicano/a studies professor at Stanford University.

The most optimistic GOP-affiliated group is the Hispanic Leadership Network, which suggests that GOP politicians could get up to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote for supporting an immigration bill.

“Republicans should not expect to win a majority of the Hispanic vote nationally any time in the foreseeable future [but] they can reasonably win more than 40 percent of Hispanic voters in many states,” said a joint statement by HLN and Resurgent Republic. Supporting immigration reform would draw support from up to 50 percent of Latinos in Florida and 30 percent in Colorado, said the memo.

HLN is a business-backed groups whose leadership included many allies of former President George W. Bush, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Overall, a major immigration overhaul would help the GOP by reducing the controversy, said Mario H. Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, which shares some leadership with the HLN.

“There would be an advantage to having immigration reform off the table of the next election, and would make sure no candidate ever mentions ‘self-deportation’ ever again,” he said.

In the long run, the GOP must step up its outreach and change some policies to win Hispanic voters, he added. “It is a mistake for any Republican to look at this as a panacea. … That would be a dreadful mistake.”

But there is little evidence that past support for reform has aided GOP candidates.

In 1988, President George H.W. Bush won only 30 percent of the Latino vote in 1988 after prominently pushing the 1986 reform bill.

His son, President George W. Bush, won 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, during a housing bubble that provided provided wages to many immigrant Latino construction workers, and during a race against a wealthy candidate from Massachusetts.

Bush did not push an immigration bill until 2006, when he worked with Arizona Sen. John McCain on a rewrite that failed because of GOP and Democratic opposition. McCain’s reward in 2008 was 31 percent of the Latino vote.

The Bush-McCain push in 2006 did not even have any  beneficial impact in the 2006 midterm elections for the GOP, according to a peer-reviewed study by George Hawley, a lecturer at the University of Houston.

“Latinos living in House districts represented by pro-immigration Republican incumbents were no more likely to support that incumbent than Latinos living in House districts represented by Republican incumbents with pro-enforcement records,” he concluded in his study of the Latino vote in the 2006 elections.

The study was published in “Social Science Quarterly.”

“Supporting more generous immigration policies does not appear to be a way for Republicans to increase their share of the Latino vote,” Hawley wrote.

However, the Pew survey highlighted one favorable trend for the GOP — the gradual integration of Latinos into mainstream culture pulls them toward the political center.

“Support for a larger government is greatest among immigrant Latinos,” the report said. But it falls from 81 percent of new immigrants to 72 percent among the second generation and 58 percent among the third generation, it said.

But new arrivals tend to increase the Latino and immigrant share of the vote, exacerbating the GOP disadvantage. For example, even if the GOP gets 4 million votes from 10 million new arrivals, the Democratic Party would get 6 million votes.

Those two trends give the GOP an incentive to promote integration by reducing the number of new arrivals.

That is the policy pushed by some GOP politicians and some immigration-reform groups, such as the Center for Immigration Studies.

Even if the GOP could shape those trends, the Latino vote is a growing problem for the GOP.

In 2012, President Barack Obama boosted his Latino support up to 71 percent, after using his executive authority to roll back enforcement of immigration laws and to offer work permits to at least 800,000 younger illegal immigrants.

Only 27 percent of the Latino vote pulled the lever for GOP candidate Mitt Romney, a candidate who shared the same wealthy profile as Bush’s opponent in 2004.

That 27 percent was made more painful by a lower-than-expected turnout among low-income white voters. White voters comprised only 72 percent of the electorate in 2012, partly because Obama had successfully portrayed Romney as uncaring about working-class and middle-class voters.

That poor white turnout may be repeated in 2016 if the GOP pushes for immigration reform, warns advocates such as Mark Krikorian, founder of Center for Immigration Studies.

Hawley’s study bolsters Krikorian’s warning.

“Because strong majorities of white voters have negative feelings toward undocumented immigrants and oppose amnesty, pursuing expansionist immigration policies will likely cost Republican incumbents more votes than they gain,” Hawley concluded.

At least two 2012 polls provided some evidence that support for large-scale immigration alienates white voters.

Fifty-seven percent of “white working-class Americans … agree that illegal immigrants taking jobs that would otherwise be filled by American citizens are responsible for our current economic problems,” said an August survey of 2,501 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The research institute is a left-of-center group. The group’s board is chaired by progressive stalwart Rabbi David Saperstein.

That poll was echoed by a Quinnipiac University poll whose results are a mirror of the Latino Decisions survey.

Quinnipiac’s poll showed that 27 percent of voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania said Obama’s de facto amnesty policy made them less likely to vote for the president’s re-election. Only 11.5 percent of voters in the two states said the policy made them more supportive of Obama, said the survey.

A Quinnipiac poll in Florida poll showed a similar by weaker impact. Twenty-two percent of Floridians were “less likely” to back Obama because of his immigration policies, while 17 percent were “more likely.”

Public wariness towards immigration is illustrated by Republican Rep. Lou Barletta, whose immigration-reform stance won him a seat in Congress in 2010 by 10 points.

“I hope politics is not at the root of why we’re rushing to pass a bill,” he told The Morning Call, a Pennsylvania newspaper.

Most Latinos “are low-skilled or may not even have a high school diploma [and] the Republican Party is not going to compete over who can give more social programs out,” he said Jan. 28.

Follow Neil on Twitter