Poll Shows Latino Divide, Opportunity For GOP

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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A new poll of Latino voters in California reveals a path to ballot-box success for GOP politicians who are trying to win a larger share of the fast-growing Latino population.

Deep in the data, the poll shows that native-born, third-generation Latinos tend to be better educated, more likely to be middle-class, more skeptical about illegal immigration, and more likely to vote GOP.

In contrast, recent immigrants and first generation Latinos are locked into the wealth-redistributing and diversity-boosting Democratic Party.

The poll of 1,507 Californian voters showed that 66 percent of immigrant Latinos favor a Democratic plan to provide taxpayer-funded immigration lawyers to the rising wave of unskilled Central American migrants.

Fifty-seven percent of first-generation Latinos support the free lawyers.

Only 48 percent of second-generation Latinos supported the free lawyers, and 44 percent opposed the free legal aid.

That 44 percent is a big leap over the 27 percent share of the national Latino vote gained by the GOP’s 2012 presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Although progressives say Romney took a hard line on immigration, he largely abandoned the pro-American language during the general election after he won the GOP primary.

The free lawyers are politically important. That’s because they can help win green cards for 80 percent of the roughly 200,000 migrants, few of whom will pay enough in taxes to match taxpayer spending on their welfare, health, schooling and retirement.

The generation gap among Latinos is very important, say GOP advocates.

“I was really taken by it,” said Dan Schnur, executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics of University of Southern California, which sponsored the poll. “There’s no question that as someone spends more time — as a resident or a citizen — their attitude towards immigration changes.”

New migrants don’t vote GOP, said Mike Madrid, a former policy chief for the California GOP. “People don’t come to this country looking for a capital-gains tax cut [so] our policies and messages are not speaking to the recently migrated,” said Madrid, who is the founder of Grassroots Lab, a California consulting firm.

The new polling data shows that “Latinos are undergoing the same process as every other [immigrant] group… by the 3rd generation, it won’t be an identity based bloc,” and so will be more receptive to a pro-growth pitch from GOP or Democratic politicians, he said.

The new poll is corroborated by other data. For example, in April 2012, Pew reported that Latino “support for a larger government is greatest among immigrant Latinos.” But it falls from 81 percent of new immigrants to 72 percent among the second generation and 58 percent among the third generation, read the report, titled “When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity.”

Latino assimilation will also create deep splits in the Democratic coalition, Madrid predicted.

Assimilated working and middle-class Latinos will ignore the Democrat demand for ethnic solidarity, he said. Instead, they’ll demand faster economic growth, while the progressive establishment will insist on growth-choking federal regulations, he predicted.

That disagreement will create a huge opportunity for a populist, Latino-friendly leader in the Democratic Party, or even in the GOP, Madrid said.

Some GOP politicians are trying to win Latino votes by treating them as normal Americans concerned about pocketbook issues.

“The last 40 years have been a period of uninterrupted large-scale immigration into the U.S., coinciding with increased joblessness, falling wages, failing schools, and a growing welfare state,” Sen. Jeff Sessions said in a March statement. “Would not the sensible, conservative thing to do be to slow [immigration] down for a bit, allow wages to rise and assimilation to occur, and help the millions struggling here today — immigrant and native-born alike — transition from dependency to self-sufficiency?”

Other GOP advocates argue that a major amnesty could win support for the GOP from low-income migrants.

The poll of 1,507 voters included 347 Latinos. It was conducted Sept. 2 to Sept. 8 for the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times. The poll was conducted by both Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and American Viewpoint.

Other parts of the poll shows how the multiple generations of Latinos are simultaneously tugged towards the opposing goals of ethnic solidarity and economic growth.

For example, 65 percent of Latinos said illegal immigration is a crisis or a major problem for California.

Simultaneously, 52 percent of Latinos agreed that the “unaccompanied [migrant] children who illegally cross the border into California should be allowed to stay for months or even years while awaiting a hearing. Their lives are in danger if they return home and we can’t just send them back.”

In contrast, 19 percent of the California Latinos subordinated ethnic solidarity and agreed that “unaccompanied children who illegally cross the border into California should be immediately sent back to their own country. Letting them stay just encourages even more illegal immigration across our border.”

But the 19 percent may understate Latinos’ nationwide opposition to illegal immigration.

Other national polls show much higher Latino skepticism towards migrants.

Roughly 64,000 children and youths have crossed the borders since last October. The Obama administration has defined these young migrants as “unaccompanied,” even though most were being transported by paid coyotes to their parents or relatives living illegally in the United States.

Simultaneously, roughly 65,000 Central American people in “family groups” crossed the border in search of jobs. This group consists of adults with kids, and it has grown five-fold since 2013. Generally, the administration and pollsters downplay the existence of this fast-growing inflow of “family units.”

In general, the Unruh poll showed that Republicans were overwhelmingly hostile to illegal immigration, and swing-voting independents were generally hostile to it. For example, 58 percent of GOP voters and 32 percent of independents said illegal immigration is a crisis for the state.

“Voters are compassionate to those already here, but they are not open border advocates,” David Kanevsky, vice president of the American Viewpoint polling firm, told The Imperial Valley News.

“What they don’t want to do is have solutions that encourage more of the same problem,” he said.

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