Losing Voters on Immigration
The Republican party thought it had the perfect issue to both rev up the base and angry blue collar Democrats -- attack immigration. After all, the Republican base supposedly hates the idea of people breaking the law and entering America without Uncle Sam's express written permission. And blue collar Democrats hate the idea of someone "stealing" their job by accepting lower wages.
All the Republicans needed to do was push for an "enforcement only" immigration bill. Refuse to do anything about our mess of immigration laws until the border had been locked down tight. "No changes without fences!" was their rallying cry. Republicans like John Kyle and John McCain, who tried to push for a comprehensive bill, were demonized and ostracized.
The strategy failed miserably. Instead of turning out the vote for the GOP, it destroyed whatever inroads the GOP had previously made with Latino voters. Richard Nadler, of America's Majority, recently completed an in-depth study of how the Republicans' position on immigration affected Latino voters. The results aren't pretty.
Nadler wrote about his results in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal.
Undocumented Latinos constitute 3.8% of the American work force. But these 5.6 million workers are a mere fraction of the 17.3 million Latino citizens 18 years or older. Of these, 4.4 million are themselves foreign born.
In my recent study for the Americas Majority Foundation entitled "Border Wars: The Impact of Immigration on the Latino Vote," I document not what Hispanics opined, but how they actually voted, given a clear choice between advocates of "enforcement first" and comprehensive immigration reform. The results, based on returns from 145 heavily Hispanic precincts and over 100,000 tabulated votes, indicate this: Immigration policies that induce mass fear among illegal residents will induce mass anger among the legal residents who share their heritage.
In these three races, Republicans' vote share in heavily Latino precincts dropped 22 percentage points.
What does this mean nationwide? Republicans' presidential Hispanic vote share increased to 40% in 2004 from 21% in 1996. In 2004, Latinos comprised 6% of the electorate, but 8.1% of the voter-qualified citizenry. With the partisan margin shrinking, the incentive for major Hispanic registration efforts by either party was scant.
That changed in 2006, when the GOP's Hispanic vote share declined by 10%. And, as we have seen, the drop was twice as precipitous where Republicans disavowed comprehensive immigration reform. With the huge wedge in vote share that "enforcement-only" opened, the cost-effectiveness of voter-registration efforts improved dramatically -- for Democrats.
Great work guys. Can we finally put to rest the idea that slamming shut the border and demonizing entire racial groups is a good way to win elections? Can we finally start working on a way to fix the entire immigration process rather than pretending that a border fence is the only thing missing?