Published February 27, 2013
Supporting liberal immigration policies will not guarantee Republican candidates a victory among Latino voters, according to a new study.
The survey looked at the 2006 election, which occurred at a time when Congress debated sweeping immigration measures. The study’s author, University of Houston Professor George Hawley, found that Republicans that year did not lose or gain Latino votes in connection to their stance on immigration issues.
“To this point, no one has definitively demonstrated that voters of any demographic background are more or less likely to support Republican incumbents with a record of supporting expansionist immigration policies,” wrote Hawley, who conducted the study for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington D.C. think tank that favors strict immigration policies. “While Republican incumbents may have any number of justifications for supporting immigration reforms that provide a pathway to citizenship, they should not expect such policies to be an electoral panacea.”
The study further found that supporting a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants may cost Republican candidates – they stand to lose the support of non-Hispanic white voters who oppose amnesty.
“Non-Hispanic whites were more likely to vote for incumbents whose immigration records were congruent with their own attitudes,” the study said. “Because strong majorities of white voters have negative feelings toward illegal immigrants and oppose amnesty, pursuing expansionist immigration policies will likely cost Republican incumbents more votes than they gain.”
The study’s author stressed that the findings do not mean Republicans should not make the effort to reach to Hispanics and other minorities – a necessity, it noted, as the country’s demographics change.
President Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote in 2012, and his challenger, Republican Mitt Romney, got only 27 percent. The poor showing by Romney among Latino voters has led to a determination among many Republicans to reach out to the community, and soften their stance on immigration. The Latino disillusionment over Republicans was attributed, to a large degree, to the tough rhetoric by Romney and other Republicans over illegal immigration.
Romney embraced the notion of “self-deportation,” making life so difficult for undocumented immigrants – by, among other things, taking away assistance and rights to things such as driver’s licenses – that they would leave the country on their own.
“There is no empirical data that support today’s popular assertion that if Republicans would only embrace a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, the party would receive a greater share of the Hispanic vote in the next election”, said Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies. “Republicans would do better to find another means of reaching out to Latino voters.”
Proponents of more lenient immigration policies cast doubt on the study's findings. They said immigration is more of a burning issue now than it was in 2006.
To be sure, many polls of likely Latino voters revealed that while other issues — the economy and healthcare, for instance — ranked as higher priorities than immigration in their lives, a political candidate's tone when discussing the divisive topic colored their view of that person.
"These are the guys who told Mitt Romney to embrace self-deportation," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, which favors more lenient immigration measures, in a story in The Washington Times. "Now they're telling Republicans immigration doesn't matter with Latino voters. Anyone who follows their advice is a fool."