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State Senator Wendy Davis won the Texas Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination this week. There was never any doubt she would win, her only opposition was Corpus Christi Municipal Judge, and frequent candidate, Ray Madrigal. Even though Davis won with a landslide 79% of the vote, she lost in nearly every South Texas and border-area county with large Hispanic and Democratic electorates. This should give pause to the campaign as they begin to plot out and implement general election strategies. Davis cannot compete, and the Democratic Party cannot move the needle in Texas without robust Latino support. The Valley, South Texas, and the border regions could be pillars of that support: Texas Hispanic voters support Democratic candidates at higher rates (than GOP candidates), and strongly favor the type of education policy solutions Davis is placing at the center of her campaign. But, as Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Leticia Van De Putte has said, Democrats cannot wait for the demographics to catch up. The underwhelming performance in South Texas underscores the dire statewide need for Hispanic voter engagement. Last week we published a report that analyzed demographic and voter participation trends in Texas. In 2012, only 25% of Latino voters were contacted by parties, campaigns, or organizations to encourage their participation.

Hispanic Texans register to vote at lower rates compared to non-Hispanics in the state, and the national average for Hispanics. There are 2.9 million voting-eligible Latinos in the state who are not engaged in the electoral process. Once registered, Latinos turn out at relatively high rates — getting registration rates up is essential to closing the voter participation gap. Democrats must convert some of these non-voters in to their supporters if the party is to be competitive again.

 A couple of facts should be taken into consideration when thinking about the South Texas results. By virtue of name alone,  Madrigal would have seen a bump where there are large pockets of Hispanic voters. Several academic studies find Latino voters use surname cues to make vote choices, particularly in low-information elections, when voters are unfamiliar with the candidates. It is also important to bear in mind that in the largest counties Davis lost in her primary, she was far more successful with voters than Republican nominee, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was in his primary: Davis won 35,954 votes compared to Abbott’s 8,853. In the big picture there are millions of Hispanic votes up for grabs, and Democrats remain very popular with Texas Latino voters.

 Texas Republican elected officials and candidates have provided Democrats with a unique opportunity to capitalize on their aggressive anti-immigrant messaging, and condescending digs at the Latino community that have been on full display throughout the GOP primary. Republicans should knock it off already — they have big opportunities with Latino voters too, as we’ve discussed in this space. Ugly GOP tactics alone will not register or turnout Hispanic voters. If Democrats hope to benefit from the demographic shift underway (and Republicans effectively purging Latinos from their base), they must strategically invest to build relationships with more Hispanic voters, and re-build the state party.


Cross-posted from Latino Decisions:

Latino Decisions election eve polling shows 66% of Hispanics and 63% of Asian Americans voted for Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe. More specifically, an estimated 95,500 Hispanic and 51,000 Asian-Americans voted in the Virginia election, meaning that Asian and Hispanic voters provided a combined 95,160 votes for McAuliffe, contributing heavily to his slim 56,494 victory margin.

As provisional ballots continue to be counted, only 164 votes separate apparent Attorney General-Elect Mark Herring and his Republican opponent Mark Obenshain. Latino and Asian-American voters rejected Obenshain as soundly as they did Republican candidate for Governor Ken Cuccinelli. With a formal recount in the AG’s race a near certainty, the balance of power in the Virginia State Senate going into 2014 hangs in the balance. Democrat Ralph Northam’s decisive winover Republican E.W. Jackson in the Lieutenant Governor’s race gives Democrats a tie-breaking vote in the Virginia state senate, where Democrats and Republicans each hold twenty seats. In the legislature’s lower chamber however, Republicans hold a firm super-majority, 67 out of 100 seats. Asian American and Latino voters were dramatically more supportive of Democratic candidates all of these contests.

With a bi-partisan coalition of Delegates gearing up to re-introduce the Virginia DREAM Act early next year in the Republican-led House of Delegates, and McAuliffe’s public expression of support for the bill, partisan control of the Senate may prove a critical lynch-pin to the bill’s success. The vast majority of Virginia voters support such a law, and immigration weighed heavily in vote choices for Latino and Asian voters in particular.

Terry McCauliffe’s support for the Virginia DREAM Act, which he promoted during visits colleges and universities in the state, resonates with Virginia’s younger Asian and Latino electorates. Among Asian and Hispanic voters in the 18 -39 demographic, McCauliffe’s support for a pathway to citizenship and the DREAM Act made 64 percent of young Asian and 65 percent of young Latino voters more enthusiastic about his candidacy, compared to 38 percent of middle-aged Asian and 57 percent of middle-aged Latino voters.

Candidate and policy preferences among Virginia’s young Hispanic and Asian voters signal things to come. The demographic changes evolving in the Virginia electorate make the commonwealth a sort of bellweather for Hispanic influence in elections going forward. Compared to all other states,Virginia has the highest college degree attainment rate among Hispanics; 25% in the state compared to the group national average of 13%. Virginia’s young Hispanic voters were among the most enthusiastic about McAuliffe’s stance on immigration issues. Suggestive evidence that many young Hispanic voters are on college campuses comes by way of their support for Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis. Consistent with our understanding of college student affinity for Libertarians, 10 percent of Latino voters aged 18-39 voted for Sarvis, his largest pocket ofdemographic support measured.

Republicans interested in winning statewide office must contend with the demographic and political realities that surfaced in the Virginia election: more Latinos are going to college, Cuccinelli’s showing with young Hispanic and Asian voters was especially disastrous (19% and 20% respectively), and the eligible non-white share of the electorates becomes bigger by the day. Whether the GOP embraces, or once again rejects the Virginia DREAM Act in the upcoming state legislative session will be good indicator of whether the party will seal their fate with Virginia’s fastest-growing segments in the electorate, or whether they can salvage what is left of their vanishing opportunities.

For more information on the AV/PFAW/LD Virginia Election Eve Poll, see the slide decktopline results and detailed crosstabs .

View images at

D. Xavier Medina Vidal is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech. He can be reached at


Cross-posted at Latino Decisions blog.

With Election Day in Virginia today and the gubernatorial candidates’ positioning on immigration reform on stark display, a new election-eve poll, sponsored by America's Voice, People for the American Way and Latino Decisions reveals how Virginia’s changing demographics are also changing the state’s politics. The polling data present a sign of things to come for the national GOP in 2014 and beyond.

The first installment of the election-eve poll of extremely likely voters shows immigration policy and rhetoric are important factors in the voting decisions of Latino and Asian Americans.

A second installment of the election-eve poll, which includes candidate selection, will be released when the polls close in Virginia tonight at 7pm eastern. If you would like to receive an advanced copy of the embargoed results, please email Katy@newpartners.comThe entire poll will be discussed on Wednesday, November 6th, at a noonpress call/webinar with Latino Decisions, People For the American Way, and America’s Voice.

Highlights of this first installment reveal the following (see crosstabs and toplines):

Immigration weighs heavily in Latino and Asians’ voting decisions. Over half (53%) of Latinos rank immigration as the most important issue facing the Latino community that politicians should address.

When asked about the role of immigration in their voting decisions, 53% of Latinos and 46% of Asians said it was either “the most important issue” or “one of the most important issues” in their “decision to vote, and who to vote for.”

Candidates’ positive and negative immigration positions move voters.  After hearing Terry McAuliffe’s position on immigration, including his support for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States and for the Virginia state DREAM Act, 56% of Latinos and 40% of Asians said that they were more enthusiastic about McAuliffe.  After hearing that Ken Cuccinelli proposed a law to take away citizenship from children whose parents are undocumented and wanted to authorize local police to check the papers of anyone they think might be undocumented, 64% of Latinos and 50% of Asians said this made them less enthusiastic about Cuccinelli.

As Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, put it: “Ken Cuccinelli is leaning heavily on the politics of exclusion, especially when it comes to Latinos and immigrants. This election will prove that if the Republican Party moves further in the exclusionary direction of the Tea Party, it will do so at its own peril.”

Cuccinelli’s hardline immigration positions hurt not only him, but the Republican Party overall.  After hearing a statement from Cuccinelli comparing immigrant families to rat families, 70% of Latinos and 59% of Asians said it made them look less favorably on the Republican Party as a whole.

The comments were most salient to foreign-born Latinos and US-born Asians, who said it made them view the GOP more negatively at a rate of 75% and 74% respectively.  After learning that Cuccinelli sponsored a bill as state Senator that would allow employers to fire any workers who did not speak English, 75% of Latinos and 67% of Asians said this made them less favorable to the Republican Party as a whole.

The good news for the GOP is that they can stop the bleeding, but they need to act.  This evening, we will release candidate choice numbers for key VA races, but it’s safe to say that they will be less than stellar for the GOP candidates.  In fact, a majority of Latino (58%) and Asian (68%) voters have voted for a Republican candidate at some point in their lives.

This is, in essence, the swing vote within the two electorates that could move toward the GOP if the Party stops immigrant bashing and starts passing immigration solutions.  Also in the poll, 69% of Latinos and 47% of Asians said they would be less favorable to the GOP if the House continues its current stance on immigration reform. If the House takes action, pluralities of Latinos (41%) and Asians (43%) would have a better view of the Republican Party even if some of its members still oppose reform.

“The polls show that championing anti-immigrant positions and siding with extremists not only does serious damage to individual candidates, but the party as a whole.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, and Speaker John Boehner should be watching the results of the Virginia election closely.  They can stop the bleeding, but they have to change course on immigration reform,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.

“Bring citizenship up for a vote on the House floor.  We know we have the votes to pass it.  The right policy for the country is actually the right political move for the GOP.  As David Gergen put it just a year ago, immigration reform will happen because Democrats want it but Republicans need it,” Sharry concluded.

Gary Segura, Professor of American Politics and Chair of Chicano/a Studies, Stanford University and Co-Founder of Latino Decisions noted, "Hostility to immigrants--once a political wedge that worked for Republicans--has clearly now become an Achilles' heel for the Party.  Latinos  and Asians, climbing towards 10% of the electorate in Virginia, are clearly and profoundly put off by GOP rhetoric on this litmus-test issue for these immigrant-heavy communities.  Continued antagonism toward immigration reform has the potential to erode or erase GOP competitiveness in this important and growing purple state."

The second installment of the poll of 400 Asian and 400 Latino “extremely likely” voters in Virginia, including candidate choice, is also now available to reporters (embargoed until 7pm).  To request the full poll under embargo, email

All data will be public as the polls close in Virginia tonight, and can be found on the Latino Decisions website.  Tomorrow, Wednesday, November 6th at 12pm ET, pollsters, civic engagement leaders and immigration experts will then analyze the full results on a press call/webinar.  To participate in the noon Eastern press call/webinar on 11/6 call 1-866-952-7534; Passcode: VIRGINIA and follow the presentation here (meeting ID: VIRGINIA, entry code: ATTEND).

Press call speakers include:  Gary Segura, Professor of American Politics and Chair of Chicano/a Studies, Stanford University; Principal, Latino Decisions; Xavier Medina Vidal, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech; Dolores Huerta, Co-Founder of the United Farm Workers Union and longtime civil rights and labor activist; Michael Keegan, President, People For the American Way; and Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice.


The following is cross-posted from Latino Decisions

According to polling data from the California Field Poll, after winning the presidential election in 1980, former California Governor Ronald Reagan raised his share of the Latino vote from 35% to 45% in 1984 while carrying 59% of the entire state.  Republicans went on to win the Golden state again in 1988. Since that election, three significant changes have reshaped California politics in a manner that has made the Republican Party nearly irrelevant:

1. The Latino share of the total California electorate has dramatically increased.

2. California Republicans embarked on an anti-immigrant agenda that alienated Latino voters and drove them into the open arms of the Democratic Party.

3. Republicans are unable to compete for California’s 55 Electoral College votes, which amounts to 20% of the total 270 necessary to win a presidential election.

As the Latino voter population grows across other states, and a rigorous debate unfolds about immigration reform, we take this opportunity to revisit lessons learned from California. How did California go from a Republican stronghold to a Democratic lock? The answer is clear – anti-immigrant policy and a frustrated and mobilized Latino vote.  In a comprehensive review of academic research published in political science journals and public opinion polling and surveys from 1994 to 2013, Latino Decisions senior analysts Dr. David Damore and Dr. Adrian Pantoja, detail what they call “The Prop 187 Effect.” [Full report | PPT slide deck]

It is now well established in both the political science research community and real world campaign politics that the mid-1990s Pete Wilson era of California Republicanism was a historic turning point in the state’s politics.  Prop. 187, the infamous anti-immigrant ballot measure, which was championed by then Governor Pete Wilson in his re-election bid, resulted in significant backlash and political mobilization among California Latino voters. Following Prop. 187 were additional anti-immigrant measures such as Prop. 209 and Prop. 227 that proposed to outlaw affirmative action and bilingual education. Since 1996 when Latinos first comprised more than 10% of the state electorate, Latino partisanship has grown to over 70% Democratic.  In light of these dynamics, it is little wonder that California has become an easy win for the Democrats?

Take for example a comparison of California then and now.  In 1994 the GOP held 26 of 52 (50%) U.S. House seats in the California delegation.  Today they hold just 15 of 53 (28%).  From 1948 until 1992 Republicans won California in 9 of 10 presidential elections.  From 1992 to 2012 Democrats have swept 6 of 6 presidential elections.  Below, we make the case that this was primarily due to the Latino vote.

Prop 187 and the Pete Wilson years had two effects that shifted the state dramatically to the Democrats.  First, the number of Latino voters grew quickly in response to perceived attacks on the Latino community.  In comparison to other states that did not experience the same anti-immigrant environment such as Texas or New York, the research clearly demonstrates that Latino voter registration in California increased must faster than anticipated by population growth alone.  Second, during the mid-1990s extensive research documents a increase in Latino votes for the Democratic party in California that was sustained throughout the 2000s.  Not only did more Latinos start voting, they started voting heavily against the Republican Party.

Today, the national Republican Party is facing the same crossroads the California GOP faced in 1994.  However the national GOP has the benefit of hindsight — being able to evaluate how the Prop 187 era anti-immigrant politics impacted the GOP’s viability in California.  The short answer is that Prop 187 and Pete Wilson devastated Republican success.  Sixteen years after the historic 1994 election the Wilson/187 effect was long lasting in the Brown-Whitman gubernatorial election.  In a September 2010 survey of California Latino voters Latino Decisions asked whether or not it was “concerning” that Pete Wilson was appointed campaign co-chair for Meg Whitman in 2010.  Overall, 84% of Latinos in 2010 were somewhat or very concerned about Pete Wilson’s involvement.  This should serve as a reminder to the national GOP that the statements and positions taken today could have long lasting effects on Latino voters if they are seen as negative and severe as the Wilson/187 policies back in 1994.

Latino Decisions analysis finds 44 GOP held House districts in which the Latino voting-age population exceeds the 2012 margin of victory for the Republican incumbent.  Among these, 24 are classified as having a high level of Latino influence because the Latino voter population is large and growing and the 2012 congressional election was quite close.  Within this list we identify 14 tier 1 districts that are the most likely to flip from red to blue due to a sizable Latino electorate and very close election results.  For example Colorado 6 was decided by just 2 points in 2012 and is about 17% Latino.  Florida 10 went Republican by just 3 percent and is more than 14% Latino.  In California the 10th district is more than 35% Latino the GOP incumbent held on by just 5 points.

The 14 dots in light blue are the current GOP districts most vulnerable to Latino backlash in 2014.  The 10 dots in purple are critical toss-up districts with a growing Latino population, and the remaining 20 dots in light red are the next wave of battleground districts that will slip away from the GOP in coming elections if they do not depart from their current anti-immigrant path.

According to Latino Decisions polling in 2013 an overwhelming majority say they will blame the Republican Party if immigration reform does not pass.  When read recent statements by Republicans Steve King or Jeff Sessions, over 70% of Latino voters say it makes them less favorable towards the Republican Party as a whole.  Over 60% of Latino voters say they personally know an undocumented immigrant, and for one in three Latino voters they have an undocumented immigrant in their family.  It is no wonder that the immigration issue has become so salient and so personal to a large portion of the Latino electorate.

However a path forward still exists for Republicans.  If John Boehner allows a House vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship 62% of Latinos say they will view the GOP more favorably.  When hearing Paul Ryan’s stand on immigration reform taken directly from his congressional website: “We need to offer people a path to earned legalization and a chance to earn citizenship. We should welcome anyone who is willing to take that pledge and who shares that commitment to our country, but we must also ensure fairness to those who have followed the law,” 74% of Latino have a more favorable view of the Republican Party.  The research detailed in The Prop 187 Effect report is clear, if Republicans position themselves as an anti-immigrant party, the next generation of Latino voters will find themselves aligned against the GOP in 2014, in 2024 and perhaps another decade after that.


The following is a cross-post from Latino Decisions:

This summarizes a longer report delivered at the The Rosemary P. and John W. Galbraith Conference on Immigration sponsored by The Miller Center at the University of Virginia. The piece outlines the implications comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) on Latino political behavior based analysis of Latino Decisions research carried out before and after the 2012 election.

The Salience of Immigration Policy to the Latino Electorate

The 2012 election was widely identified as the realization of Latino influence on electoral politics. For the first time in American history, Latino voters were decisive to the presidential election outcome. Had the Latino vote split evenly between Romney and Obama (rather than the overwhelming 75% for President Obama) — Romney would have been elected president.

While the economy was the most important issue to Latino voters, immigration remained a point of considerable concern. The impreMedia/Latino Decisions Election Eve Poll found immigration policy ranked second (35%) only to the economy (58%) as the most important issue to the 2012 Latino electorate. This pattern held across states regardless of region (e.g. border states, the west, and new destination states). Interestingly, immigration policy has become even more important to Latino voters since last year’s election. The share indicating immigration is the most important issue the President and Congress should address jumped to 58% in February 2013, and remained steady at 55% by June. We can say with relative certainty that immigration continues to remain a priority to the Latino electorate, and shows no signs of going away any time soon.

The Impact of CIR on Party ID Among Latinos

Our studies consistently show immigration reform provides the Republican Party with a unique opportunity to make inroads with Latino voters, who they acknowledge are critical to the party’ssurvival. For example, a June, 2013 survey shows a third of the Latino electorate (34%) is more likely to support Republican candidates if the party takes a leadership role in advancing comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). There are two important caveats to this point: 1.) a pathway to citizenship must be part of the reform bill, and 2.) the bill must actually pass and become law. It is no secret that a pathway to citizenship is divisive among Republican members of Congress, despite the fact that most Americans support it. Republicans will not be rewarded for blocking CIR or for their verbal attacks on immigrants and Latinos. Back in April, nearly six months ago, when the Senate Gang of Eight first introduced the CIR bill, we found nearly 60% of Latinossaid their future support for Republican candidates hinged on immigration reform.

Long Term Consequences of CIR on Electoral Politics

There are significant long-term implications to consider that extend far beyond what happens in the 113th Congress. California offers great perspective on the long-game of immigration politics.  Arecent post by Matt Barreto and Ricardo Ramirez discusses how Governor Pete Wilson and Prop 187 had the unintended consequence of mobilizing immigrants along with Latino and non-Latino citizens, resulting in higher rates of naturalization, voter turnout, and Democratic party affiliation (Segura, Falcon and Pachon 1997; Barreto and Woods 2005; Barreto, Ramírez, and Woods 2005). Pantoja, Ramírez, and Segura (2001) found California Latino immigrants who naturalized and registered to vote during the Wilson-era were significantly more likely to vote compared to their U.S. born counterparts. Likewise, Barreto, Ramírez and Woods (2005) found the best predictor of California’s Latino turnout in 1996 and 2000 was whether individuals had joined the electorate in the Wilson-era. Harsh political tactics surrounding immigration turned off a large segment of California’s non-Latino voters too, causing the GOP further damage (Segura et al 2006). The overall result is evident today, where Democrats dominate state politics at every level of government.

For Latinos, two factors link immigration politics to partisan behavior. First, Latino voters are personally tied to undocumented immigrants. Second, anti-immigration policy positions are consistently accompanied by outward antipathy toward Latinos.

The personal relationship Latino voters have with undocumented immigrants has been well documented by Latino Decisions. A recent poll shows 64% of Latino voters (American citizens by definition) personally know an undocumented immigrant. Most often, these are family members and close friends. Further, 39% of Latino voters report knowing someone who has faced deportation or detention for immigration reasons, an increase of 14 points over 2011, when 25% of Latino voters said the same.  In the short time since the “deferred action” program was announced, more than one in five Latino voters (22%) already knew someone who had applied for protections via the deferred action program; another 18% know someone eligible who had not yet. These facts explain why Latinos support CIR so strongly; beyond mere ideology, Latino Americans are personally and directly connected to the people at the heart of the political and policy fight.

There is a strong perception that the immigration debate has created a hostile political climate directed toward Latinos. Back in 2010, 53% of Latino voters said anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic sentiment across the country was important to their voting decision. By June of 2011, an overwhelming 76% believed an “anti-immigrant or anti-Hispanic environment exists today.” Regardless of immigration status, Latinos realize they too may face discriminatory treatment due to perceptions about their right to be in the United States. In essence, regardless of whether Americans of Latin-origin view themselves as immigrants, others may see them as foreign; this external identification can have significant consequences.

It is highly plausible that the current combination of personal connections to immigrants and hostile political climate could yield a long-term shift in Latino political behavior. Group identity theory research in political science consistently finds perceptions of discrimination motivate ethnic attachments and a sense of common status (Sanchez 2006; Bernal and Martinelli 1993; Masuoka 2006; Uhlaner 1991). For example, Garcia’s (2000) “discriminatory-plus” model suggests shared experiences, including discrimination experiences, lead to collective political efforts. This sense of group identity among Latinos influences both political participation and policy preferences (Sanchez, 2006a; Sanchez, 2006b). If this period of immigration politics produces similar outcomes to those produced in California during the 1990’s, we may look back this point in history as a turning point in Latino politics, and American partisan politics.

Gabriel R. Sanchez is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of New Mexico, Interim Director of the RWJF Center for Health Policy at UNM and Research Director for Latino Decisions.

Work Cited

Alvarez, R. Michael and Lisa Garcia Bedolla. 2003. “The Foundations of Latino Voter Partisanship: Evidence from the 2000 Election,” The Journal of Politics 65: 31-49.

Barreto, Matt A. and Nathan D. Woods. 2005. “ “The Anti-Latino Political Context and its Impact on GOP Detachment and Increasing Latino Voter Turnout in Los Angeles County.” in Gary M. Segura and Shaun Bowler (eds.), Diversity in Democracy, Minority Representation in the United States.Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.

Barreto, Matt, Ricardo Ramirez, and Nathan Woods. 2005. “Are Naturalized Voters Driving the California Electorate? Measuring the Impact of IRCA Citizens on Latino Voting,” Social Science Quarterly. 86: 792-811.

Garcia, John A. 2000. “The Latino and African American Communities: Bases for Coalition Formation and Political Action” in Immigration and Race: New Challenges for American Democracy, ed. Gerald Jaynes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Nicholson, Stephen P. and Gary M. Segura. 2005. “Issue Agendas and the Politics of Latino Partisan Identification” in Gary M. Segura and Shaun Bowler (eds.), Diversity in Democracy, Minority Representation in the United States. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.

Sanchez, Gabriel 2006a. “The Role of Group Consciousness in Latino Public Opinion,” Political Research Quarterly. 59: 435-446.

Sanchez, Gabriel 2006b. “The Role of Group Consciousness In Political Participation Among Latinos in The United States,” American Politics Research 34: 427-451.

Segura, Gary M., Dennis Falcon, and Harry Pachon. 1997. “Dynamics of Latino partisanship in California: Immigration, issue salience, and their implications,” Harvard Journal of Hispanic Politics 10: 62-80.

Segura, Gary M., Adrian D. Pantoja, and Ricardo Ramirez. 2001. “Citizens by Choice, Voters by Necessity: Patterns in Political Mobilization by Naturalized Latinos,” Political Research Quarterly. 54 :729-750.

Segura, Gary M., Stephen P. Nicholson, and Shaun Bowler. 2006. “Earthquakes and Aftershocks: Tracking Partisan Identification amid California’s Changing Political Environment.” American Journal of Political Science 50: 146-159.

Uhlaner, Carole 1991. “Perceived Discrimination and Prejudice and the Coalition Prospects of Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans .” in Racial and Ethnic Politics in California, Bryan O. Jackson and Michael B. Preston (eds.). Berkeley, CA: IGS Press.

Uhlaner, Carol J. and F. Chris Garcia. 2005. “Learning Which Party Fits, Experience, Ethnic Identity, and the Demographic Foundations of Latino Party Identification” in Gary M. Segura and Shaun Bowler (eds.), Diversity in Democracy, Minority Representation in the United States.Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.

Wong, Janelle S. 2000. “The Effects of Age and Political Exposure on the Development of Party Identification Among Asian American and Latino Immigrants in the United States,” Political Behavior. 22: 341-371.


According to polling data from the Field Poll, after winning the presidential election in 1980, California native Ronald Reagan raised his share of the Latino vote from 35 percent to 45 percent in 1984 while carrying 59 percent of the entire state.  Republicans went on to win the Golden state again in 1988. Since then, three things have happened: first the Latino share of all voters in California started growing noticeably, and second: California Republicans embarked on an anti-immigrant agenda that ended up alienating Latino voters and driving them into the open arms of the Democratic Party, and third: Republicans have permanently written off 55 electoral college votes – or approximately 20% of the amount needed to reach 270.

As the Latino voter population grows across other states, and a rigorous debate unfolds about immigration reform, we take this opportunity to revisit lessons learned from California.  How did California go from a Republican stronghold to a Democratic lock?  The answer is clear – anti-immigrant policy and a frustrated and mobilized Latino vote.

It is now well known in the political science research world and the real world of campaigns and politics that the mid-1990s Pete Wilson era of California Republicanism was a historic turning point in the state’s politics.  The infamous anti-immigrant ballot measure, Prop. 187 was championed by then Governor Pete Wilson in his re-election bid and resulted in a significant backlash, and political mobilization among Latino voters in California.  Following Prop. 187 were additional anti-immigrant measures such as Prop. 209 and Prop. 227 to outlaw affirmative action and bilingual education.

In 1996 when Latinos first comprised more than 10 percent of the state electorate and Latino partisanship had grown dramatically to over 70 percent Democratic, it is no coincidence that California became an easy win for the Democrats.  As Latino voter registration grew in the mid-to-late 1990s, the Republican Party continued to emphasize anti-immigrant ballot measures that lead new Latino registrants to check the “Democrat” box on their registration cards.  This trend has been clearly documented in political science research (see, Segura, Falcon and Pachon 1999; Ramírez 2002; Barreto and Woods 2005; Barreto, Ramírez, and Woods 2005).  In an analysis of voter registration records in Los AngelesCounty between 1992 and 1998, Barreto and Woods (2005) found that just ten percent of new Latino registrants affiliated with the Republican Party as a direct result of the three so-called “anti-Latino” propositions in California. New Latino citizens were flooding the voter rolls in 1996, 1998 and 2000 and they were identifying as Democrat by a nearly 6-to-1 margin.  And not just party registration, but the anti-Latino initiatives motivated many new Latinos to vote. Pantoja, Ramírez, and Segura (2001) found that Latinos who naturalized and registered to vote during the 1990s were significantly more likely to turnout and vote. Likewise, Barreto, Ramírez and Woods (2005) foundd the best predictor of voter turnout in 1996 and 2000 was whether or not Latinos were newly registered following Prop. 187. The overall result then was more Latinos registering and more Latinos voting as Democrats than in previous years.

However, the 2000 election suggested that the anti-Latino era might be over.  Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush used his closeness and understanding of Latino voters in Texas to rally support for the Republican ticket in the Latino community—quite the opposite of the Republican strategy during California Governor Pete Wilson’s administration from 1990-1998 (Nuño 2007). Even as Bush attempted to introduce a new compassionate face to the Republican Party, the Republican Party label maintained an image problem with California Latino voters.

A survey conducted by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute during the 2000 election revealed that 53 percent of Latino voters in California still associated the Republican Party with former Governor Pete Wilson, a chief proponent of the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 (TRPI 2000). Ten years later when Jerry Brown squared off against Meg Whitman for governor in 2010, 80 percent of Latino voters said they were very or somewhat concerned that Whitman had appointed Pete Wilson as a campaign co-chair -- 12 years after he had left office! The result of Pete Wilson and Prop. 187 was a lasting legacy of strong support for Democratic candidates in California elections. The two figures below illustrate that as the Latino vote grew in influence, California became a more Democratic state.  Most notably, the Latino vote became 10 to 13 percent more Democratic following the anti-immigrant policies endorsed by the GOP in 1994.  In 1992 Democrats won 65 percent of the Latino vote, in 1996 Democrats won 75 percent of the Latino vote and by 2012 they were winning 78 percent of the Latino vote.

In addition to voting in presidential elections, Latinos in California have also become consistent Democratic voters in other statewide elections since the Reagan era.  Statewide results indicate that Latinos voted two-to-one on average in support of Democratic candidates for Governor and U.S. Senate for every election between 1992 and 2002 (Barreto and Ramírez in 2004). While some may view the 2003 Gubernatorial Recall election as a potential shift away from the Democratic Party (Marinucci 2003), most analysis now concurs that the circumstances and context of this election were so unique that inferring trends from the 2003 Recall election is not valid, and further that the Republican surge was not long lasting (Kousser 2006).  However, the Recall election does highlight just how important Latino voters are to the Democratic Party in California; in part due to the approximately ten-point drop in Latino support rates for Democratic candidates, Democratic Governor Gray Davis was recalled from office and replaced with Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger (DeSipio and Masuoka 2006).  Had Latinos turned out at just slightly greater rates, and voted at their average support rate for the Democratic candidates, Davis would not have been recalled in 2003. While the peculiarities of the 2003 Recall election are unlikely to ever be reproduced in a national presidential election, the outcome reveals that Latinos are a key component to Republican success in California.

Table 1 reports population growth and voter registration growth in California from 1994 to 2004 – the most relevant political years for “lessons learned” – broken down by racial and ethnic group.  While overall the state grew by nearly 15 percent (or 4.6 million people), it was almost entirely driven by Latino and Asian-American growth.  Similarly, Latinos and Asian Americans drove voter registration growth in the Golden State.  Between 1994 and 2004, the state of California added an estimated 1.8 million new registered voters, of which 66 percent were Latino and 23 percent were Asian, leaving just 11 percent of new voters that were either White or Black.

Looking back to the mid-1990s and early 2000s in California politics provides many clear lessons for the Republican Party today.  The California in 2012 that delivered 60 percent of the vote to Obama did not get there by accident.  It was not that long ago that California was a safe state for Republican presidential candidates.  The data and story that we review here remind us of the importance of the immigration issue, against the backdrop of a burgeoning Latino electorate.  What California Republicans did in 1994-1998 effectively doomed their chances in any future state elections.  Today other states such as Arizona, Texas, or even Virginia and North Carolina face their own immigration politics and a fast growing Latino electorate.  Already the lessons of California appear to be well lived in neighboring Nevada where Sharron Angle’s anti-immigrant bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010 resulted in a similar outcome to Californias.  The question is whether or not the Republican Party in other critical states, or nationally, wants to remain politically viable.  Not just in 2014, but in 2016, 2020, and 2024, as the name Pete Wilson still lives on in infamy among Latino voters in California in 2013.

View graphs and images at


As the House of Representatives moves towards its August recess having made little to no progress on immigration reform, the House Republican Conference is equipping its members with a document outlining how House Republicans should navigate the recess. Notably absent from the“Planning Kit” is any discussion of immigration reform beyond a suggested messaging theme of “Reforming Immigration and Border Security.” In light of recent analyses conducted by Latinos Decisions for Americas Voice, it might have been prudent for the Republican House leadership to reconsider not just its “messaging themes,” but the party’s handling of immigration policy more generally

Specifically, in a prior post (“How Latino Voters May Decide Control of the U.S. House of Representatives”), we took on the conventional wisdom suggesting that the GOP House caucus has little incentive to pass comprehensive immigration reform containing a pathway to citizenship akin to Senate Bill 744 because most Republican House members represent districts that are overwhelmingly white by identifying 24 marginal Republican held districts (as well as 28 similarly situated Democratic districts) where Latino voters could decide outcomes in 2014 and beyond. As we note, depending upon how the immigration debate unfolds, “Latino voters can tilt the outcome in 2014 in a manner that determines which party controls the House of Representatives in 2015.”

To keep the spotlight on these 24 tier one and tier two Republican held districts, yesterday, we released the results of the America’s Voice/Latino Decisions Midterm Battleground Districts Survey. The survey, which sampled 400 registered Latino voters who voted in the 2010 midterm election (a sub-group that we label Midterm Voters and who tend to be better informed and more conservative than the broader Latino electorate) and another 400 registered Latino voters who did not vote in the 2010 midterm, but did vote in the 2012 presidential election (e.g., Presidential Surge Voters), offers important insight into the preferences of these potential outcome deciding voters.

In general, the survey indicates that both the policies and processes being pursued by House Republicans have little or no resonance among Latino voters who are positioned to determine winners and losers in districts held by vulnerable Republican House members. In terms of policy, 60% of Midterm Voters and 57% of Presidential Surge Voters view immigration as the most important issue that the President and Congress should address. These voters are also paying attention to the immigration debate as 86% of the Midterm Voter sample and 75% of the Presidential Surge sample indicated that they had either heard or read news about the immigration reforms Congress in considering.

The data in Figure 1 makes clear these voters strongly support immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. Not surprisingly, failure by the House Republicans to pass immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship results in decreased approval of House Republicans (see Figure 2). Even if House Republicans were to pass the KIDS Act, which would provide a path to citizenship only for DREAMers, just 28% of Midterm Voters and 26% of Presidential Surge Voters indicated that they would either be much more likely or somewhat more likely to support Republicans. In contrast, 65% of Midterm Voters and 68% of Presidential Surge Votes residing in GOP held battleground districts responded that such an outcome would make them either somewhat or much less likely to support Republicans. In short, the half a loaf approach being floated by some House Republicans does little to improve the party’s standing with Latino voters living in marginal Republican districts.

These votes also have little appetite for how House Republicans are addressing immigration reform. Most notably, nearly twice as many Midterm (60% to 32%) and Presidential Surge Voters (59% to 31%) think that House Speaker John Boehner should let members of Congress vote on comprehensive immigration legislation instead of putting the vote on hold until a majority of House Republican agree to support the bill. Not surprisingly, if Speaker Boehner does not allow immigration legislation to move forward, the vast majority of Latino voters residing in tier one and tier two GOP held House districts are likely to view Republicans in Congress either somewhat or much less favorably (72% for Midterm Voters and 79% for Presidential Surge Voters). These voters also see Republican efforts to make border security a pre-requisite before a pathway to citizenship can be put in place as a means to block immigration reform (64% for Midterm Voters and 85% for Presidential Surge Voters) instead of as a legitimate concern (29%25%). Lastly, if House Republicans kill immigration reform and President Obama takes executive action to provide legal status for undocumented immigrants, then as Figure 3 makes clear, the beneficiary of this outcome would be the President and the Democrats.

To be sure, as the data presented here indicate, the present trajectory of immigration reform in the House of Representatives does not bode well for the 24 Republicans representing marginal districts where Latinos can determine outcomes in the 2014 midterm election. Indeed, as the situation presently stands, Democrats in Congress and President Obama enjoy a better than two to one favorability to unfavorability rating among both Midterm and Presidential Surge Voters, while Republicans in Congress have a net unfavorability of 35 and 37 points respectively among Midterm Voters and Presidential Surge Voters. As a consequence, 58% of Midterm Voters and 64% of Presidential Surge Voters indicated that they will either vote for the Democratic House candidate or are likely to do so as compared to only 19% of Midterm Voters and 18% of Presidential Surge Voters who indicated that they will vote for or are likely to vote for the Republican House candidate.

Yet, consistent with prior surveys, the results of the America’s Voice/Latino Decisions Midterm Battleground Districts Survey suggest an opening for Republicans. In particular, 39% of Midterm Voters and 36% of Presidential Surge Voters suggested that they would be more likely to support the Republican House candidate in their district if the GOP takes a leadership role in passing comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. Thus, while support for a pathway to citizenship that is part of a broader immigration reform package may not result in a ground swell of support for the GOP among Latino voters, it may allow Republicans to cut into the Democrats’ outsized support among these voters in what are likely to be some of the most hotly contested races in 2014. This, in turn, may prove to be the margin of difference in the seats that by extension preserves Republican control of the House of Representative in 2015.

[1] The margins of error for the Midterm Voter and Presidential Surge Voter sub-samples are +-4.9% and +/- 3.5% for the entire sample.

David F. Damore is a Senior Analyst at Latino Decisions and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His also a Nonresident Fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, and a key vote advisor to Project Vote Smart.

View charts and graphs here


New polling results released today show clear evidence that Latino voters now believe that the anti-immigrant voices in the House are not isolated individuals but that many Republicans in Congress hold these views.  When hearing a quote from Republican Mo Brooks, “There is a surefire way to create jobs now for American citizens: evict all illegal aliens from America” 77% of Latino voters said it gives them a less favorable view of the overall Republican Party.  After hearing quotes from eight different House Republicans, 66% of Latino voters said the anti-immigrant quotes represent “many Republicans in Congress” compared to 27% who said they represent only a few isolated individuals. [ Full webinar slide deck here | Toplines here ]

(Click here for a graphic of all eight quotes we tested)

Now that the immigration reform debate has moved on to the Republican-controlled House, Latino voters are readily aware that the Republican Party controls the bills future. When asked which party would be to blame if immigration reform does not pass, 69% pointed to Republicans, compared to 13% who would blame Democrats.  What’s more, 58% of Latino voters said they would feel personally angry if the immigration bill is blocked, including 51% of Latinos who had previously voted Republican, and 58% of high-income earners, and 59% of Latino college graduates – subgroups of Latino voters the Republican Party can least afford to alienate.

However, the Republican Party does not have to be doomed to such negative views from Latino voters.  When asked if they have ever voted Republican for any federal, state or local election, 49% of Latino voters said they had voted Republican at some point in the past.  That means about half of all Latinos are possible Republican voters if the party supports issues important to the Latino community.  However, they will never achieve the 30% mark again if they continue to be perceived as an anti-immigrant party by Latino voters.  When asked how they would respond if Republicans block the comprehensive immigration reform bill, 50% of Latinos said it would make them less likely to vote Republican ever again, including 40% of Latinos who had previously voted Republican.  When hearing the quotes from House Republicans who appear to set on blocking immigration reform, large percentages of Latinos think the anti-immigrant quotes speak for “many Republicans in Congress” including 70% of Latino evangelicals who agree, 64% of high-income earners, 62% of college graduates, and notably, 55% of Latinos who have previously voted Republican, think “there are many Republicans in Congress” who hold such anti-immigrant views.

When asked in an open-ended question what their impression of the Republican Party was after hearing these quotes, Latino voters responded that the Republican Party needs to change and become more open-minded.  The following are four direct quotes from a sample of our respondents:

“Do not be so harsh, have some heart”

“Their phrases are antiquated and full of ignorance, it’s a disgrace that there are people who think that way”

“Read and learn more about immigrants, many probably don’t know much about immigrants or are being stubborn”

“They are risking the Latino vote. Immigrants are not doing anything bad, all they want to do is work, and without papers they can’t do that”

Finally, after hearing the quotes against immigration reform, we asked Latino voters whether a series of adjective descriptions fairly described the Republican Party, or not.  Only 29% of Latino felt the Republican Party “respects the Latino community” while 67% said they did not.  In contrast, 50% felt that the phrase “promotes negative stereotypes about Hispanics” described the Republican Party well, including 43% of prior GOP voters who agreed.  The responses from Latino voters to this poll make it very clear that the current actions of House Republicans are critical to the overall party’s future viability with Latinos. Latino voters are watching the immigration debates closely, and if the House blocks immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and continues to promote an intolerant message about Latino immigrants, they may never be able to recover and rebuild trust with Latino voters.  It is not that immigration is the only issue of concern to Latino voters, but right now, Republicans have created a blockage in their ability to reach out to Latino voters on any issue.  It is almost impossible to ask Latinos to support your plan for education reform or taxes, if they think you are the party who compared managing the U.S.-Mexico border to managing cattle: Republican Steve King in talking about the border: “We could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would simply be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time.” Not surprisingly, our poll found that 74% of Latino voters said this quote from Steve King gave them a less favorable view about the Republican Party overall.

About the Poll

Latino Decisions and Hart Research collaborated on the national survey of Latinos, all of whom voted in 2012.  The survey was commissioned by SEIU, and was fielded between July 8-12, 2013.  A total of 600 Latino voters were interviewed by live callers with randomly selected calls to landline and cell-phone-only households.  Respondents could take the survey in English or Spanish, at their discretion and overall 31% answered in Spanish.  The margin of error is +/- 4.0%.  A complete slide deck from the July 18 webinar can be found here, and full toplines are posted here.

View images and charts here


Cross-posted from Latino Decisions
 on 07/11/2013

It is well documented that anti-Latino rhetoric and policies by Republican candidates since the mid-1990s led Latino voters to abandon the GOP in favor of the Democratic Party (Bowler and Segura 2012). For example, research on California shows promotion of the anti-immigrant Prop 187 was directly tied to decreases in Republican partisanship among Latinos (Barreto and Woods 2005). President Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012, won with overwhelming Latino support, have led many to conclude that Republicans have lost a generation or two of Latino voters. One conservative camp including the likes of Patrick Buchanan, contend that the only viable strategy for the GOP is to cast off Latino voters while doubling-down on white voters, a revival of Nixon’s Southern Strategy. Others, like Karl Rove, offer a less pessimistic assessment, and contend that the GOP is in a position to make inroads with Latino voters if the party and candidates change their rhetoric and policy positions on immigration. Whether Latinos are open or closed to GOP outreach efforts is based on whether one believes Latinos partisanship is fixed or flexible.  Here we take a look at the empirical data, from a survey of nearly 6,000 Latino immigrants and find clear evidence that party identification among Latino non-citizens is largely non-partisan and undefined.

The nature of Latino partisanship — fixed or flexible–  has been a long standing debate among scholars. Essentially, there are two dominant theories of partisanship; those who emphasize the importance early childhood socialization where partisan identities are inherited from one’s parents and remains stable through adulthood (Campbell et al 1960), and those who emphasize the importance of issues, candidates, and campaign dynamics which leads to greater partisan variability (Fiorina 1981). Although, much of the scholarship on partisanship comes down to a debate between those who emphasize long-term social forces and those who emphasize short-term considerations (Achen 1992); a significant limitation in this body of research is that the partisan attachments of immigrants and Latinos have largely been overlooked. Hence, the degree to which Latino partisanship is a stable or volatile across elections remains underexplored by academic researchers.

The handful of studies on Latino party identification tends to emphasize its variability across elections as a result of the candidate position-taking on key issues, and the fact that parental socialization of American politics is nonexistent for immigrants (Wong 2000; Alvarez and Bedolla 2003; Nicholson and Segura 2005; Uhlaner and Garcia 2005).  A common understanding in the scholarly research on partisanship is that today’s immigrants do not have fixed or set party allegiances.  There is no research to date that non-citizen immigrants have pre-existing party attachment that they take with to their naturalization ceremony. Rather, immigrants are seen as responsive to the political environment in which they find themselves and develop party attachment as they become citizens, register, and start voting.

In fact, an empirical look at the data confirms this theory. Among Latinos who are Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs, immigrants eligible for US citizenship), 17% self-identify as Independents according to the 2006 Latino National Survey[i] (see Figure 1). Even more significant is the fact that 28% eschew the Independent label and are best classified as “non-identifiers”. One quarter (26%) identify their party affiliation as simply “other” – rejecting both the Republican or Democratic Party. In other words, far from being solidly aligned with the Democratic Party, a total of 71% of Latino LPRs do not identify with either party.

Of course, not all Latino immigrants are LPRs, most become naturalized American citizens, and some are in an undocumented status. One of the primary obstacles Republicans express for legalizing the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants is the belief that doing so will be a political windfall for the Democratic Party. The facts do not comport with this common misperception.  Among Latino undocumented immigrants the Latino National Survey reports virtually the same patterns of partisan identification as legal permanent residents with only 1 in 4 identifying as Democrats.  Instead, 72% of Latino undocumented immigrants have no party identification with the two major political parties. The reason is simple: undocumented immigrants are still learning the positions and orientations of the political parties, and develop their party orientation over time as they become green card holders and eventually naturalized citizens.

What’s more, even among the minority those who do pick Democrat or Republican, over half say their party attachment is “not too strong.”  Out of every 100 Latino undocumented immigrants, just 11 identify as “Strong Democrats.”  Likewise, among Latino legal residents, just 10 percent say they are “Strong Democrats” (see Table 1). Both parties must compete to win the votes of these new citizens and new voters.

Finally, Figure 3 illustrates the degree of non-partisanship across four different types of Latino immigrants: (1) undocumented immigrants; (2) Legal Permanent Residents; (3) newly naturalized citizens (3 years or less); (4) and all naturalized immigrants.

More than seventy percent of undocumented (72%) and LPRs (71%) do not identify as Democrats or Republicans. Among immigrants naturalized 3 years or less, that figure declines to 52%, and declines even further, to 42% among all naturalized Latino United States citizens. In other words, as Latinos become citizens, the greater the likelihood they will select one of the two major parties. Right now, that preference tends to favor Democrats, but a change in GOP strategy could tilt that partisan direction in their favor. After all, far from being Democrats, the majority of Latino immigrants have yet to pick one of the two major parties.

Strategies either party may adopt to strengthen their position with the expanding Latino electorate should target Latino immigrants whose partisan preferences have yet to be formed. Policies and rhetoric, specifically directed and applicable to immigrants, will have a significant effect on partisan identification among naturalized voters. While parental socialization may be absent, political socialization forces are pervasive once immigrants settle in the United States. In fact, a consistent finding in the Latino politics literature is that identification with the Democratic Party increases with age and length of residency (Cain. Kiewiet and Uhlaner 1991; Wong 2000; Uhlaner and Garcia 2005). The findings in Table 1 are indicative of that trend.

Indeed, the GOP has a real opportunity to win the partisan hearts and minds of Latino immigrants, the data are clear on this proposition. However, if skeptics are unconvinced by the data, then perhaps history, in the form of Ronald Regan’s and George W. Bush’s campaigns, proves that Latino’s partisan hearts and minds are open to Republican messages as both won over 40% of the Latino vote during their campaigns for the presidency. Had Romney won a similar percentage in 2012, the presidency would have been within reach.

Note: The data analyzed here come the 2006 Latino National Survey, the largest political science study of Latinos and American politics.  The survey was designed and implemented by a team of six principle investigators including Dr. Luis Fraga (Univ. of Washington), Dr. John Garcia (Univ. of Michigan), Dr. Rodney Hero (UC Berkeley), Dr. Michael Jones-Correa (Cornell), Dr. Valerie Martinez-Ebers (Univ. of North Texas), and Dr. Gary Segura (Stanford).  The data are archived atICPSR #20862

For charts and graphs view

Despite growing popular support among non-Latinos both nationally and in key swing states in favor of immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, the conventional wisdom suggests that the bipartisan legislation that recently passed the Senate faces an uphill battle in the Republican controlled House of Representatives.  Many point to the June 6th party line House vote to defund President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Speaker Boehner’s recent comments that he will only bring an immigration bill to the floor if it is supported by a majority of Republicans (the “Hastert Rule”) as evidence that the House is unlikely to produce legislation in line with Senate Bill 744.  An in-depth review of all 435 House districts suggests that this conventional wisdom is wrong.

Latino Decisions has identified 44 GOP-held House seats in which Latino voters could influence the outcome of elections in 2014 and beyond. This includes districts where the Latino voting-age population exceeds the 2012 margin of victory or swing districts won in 2012 by President Obama and the House Republican candidate that also have notable Latino populations. If the GOP loses just 17 seats in 2014, the Democrats will regain majority control.  In particular, our analysis identifies 14 “tier 1” GOP-held House seats with large Latino populations and narrow margins of victory in 2012 and where we expect Latino voters will decide the 2014 outcomes.  Add to this 10 “tier 2” districts in which Latinos are quite likely to be influential and 20 “tier 3” states in which Latinos could be influential.  As we outline below, there are also many Democrats who are likely to face close elections in districts where Latino voters will be decisive.  Depending upon how immigration reform unfolds, these districts are potential growth opportunities for Republicans that would allow the GOP to expand its slim majority.

While nationally Republicans may view immigration reform as an opportunity to demonstrate that the party is capable of adapting to the country’s changing political landscape, because of redistricting, some GOP members have argued that calculus for most House Republicans is very different.[1]  To be sure and as Figure 1 details, the average Republican and Democratic House seats are demographically very different.  Specifically, Figure 1 compares the 2012 Democratic and Republican vote shares for all contested House seats, as well as the ethnic and racial composition of Democratic and Republican held House seats in the 113thCongress.

By packing partisans of both parties into so many safe districts, most House members won their elections with substantial margins.  On average, winning Democrats received over two-thirds of the vote in 2012, while winning GOP House members averaged 62% of the vote.  The larger average vote share for Democrats is a key reason why the party only gained eight seats in 2012 despite winning more than a million and half more votes nationally than the GOP.  Perhaps more significant to the immigration debate, House seats presently held by Republicans have an average voting age population that is over three quarters white.  In contrast, Democratic House seats have on average 30% fewer voting age whites and over twice as many voting age African Americans and Asians and nearly twice as many voting age Latinos as their Republican counterparts.

As a consequence, incumbent House members of both parties often claim to be more concerned about primary challengers as opposed to a strong general election opponent from the opposition party.  In particular, for Republicans who are concerned about a challenge from their right flank, the path of least resistance may seem to be to oppose any legislation that can be depicted as being either weak on security or providing “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants.

However, the pessimism embodied in these predictions overlooks three important points.  First, polling suggests that immigration reform is not an animating issue for most Republican primary voters and most Republican voters generally support the same reforms as Latinos.  Second, Latino population growth is occurring everywhere, including in GOP House districts.  Third, developing expectations about members’ behavior in terms of average district characteristics obscures individual contexts where Republican incumbents are vulnerable and Latinos may be influential.  So while voting age Latinos may have small presences in most Republican held districts, there are a significant number of districts where Latinos are positioned to affect outcomes in 2014 and by extension, partisan control of the House of Representatives.

To assess these dynamics, Tables 1 and 2 present district level analyses that examine all seats where the 2010 Latino voting age population either exceeds or approaches the 2012 margin of victory, as well as seats won by the opposition party’s presidential candidate.[2]  All total, 44 Republican (Table 1) and 61 Democratic (Table 2) seats meet these criteria.[3]  Each party’s seats are then placed into one of three tiers depending upon their vulnerability and potential affect that Latino voters can exert in 2014.  Tables 1 and 2 also include columns detailing the incumbent’s 2012 margin of victory, the difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney’s vote share in the district, the district’s white and Latino voting age populations, and the member’s vote on funding for DACA.

Inspection of Table 1 indicates that there are 14 first tier and 10 second tier Republican districts where Latino voters could be decisive in 2014.  As a consequence, if House Republicans opt for hardline immigration policies that are out of step not just with the preferences of Latino voters, but with the public more generally, then the party may push already vulnerable incumbents into untenable positions heading into 2014.  Given that the Democrats need a net gain of just 17 seats to secure the majority, failure by the House Republicans to successfully navigate immigration legislation could prove quite costly for the GOP even if the vast majority of House Republicans win reelection with minimal competition.

To this end, a consistent finding in Latino Decisions’ polling conducted throughout 2012 and 2013 is that the Republican Party has much to lose when it comes to immigration if it chooses to play an obstructionist role.  However, by playing a constructive role in passing immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, the GOP would be able to get beyond an issue that makes it nearly impossible for the party to make in-roads with Latino voters, while at the same time providing valuable political coverage for its most vulnerable House incumbents.    If the party instead pushes legislation that focuses only on enforcement or that proposes to make an already cumbersome path to citizenship even more arduous, then Mitt Romney’s 2012 performance among Latino voters may be the GOP’s high watermark for quite some time.

As the data in Table 2 make clear, there is also great incentive for the Democrats to act on immigration reform.  In fact, there are more Democratic districts where the Latino vote may be influential in 2014.  However, much of this difference stems from the large number of Democratic seats with majority or near majority minority shares.  Many Democratic House members with the largest 2012 margins of victory represent districts where voting age minorities constitute majority or near majorities.  Thus, while Latino and minority voters may be “deterministic” in these districts, given the large 2012 margins and the strong Democratic tilt of these voters, it is difficult to think of scenarios where the outcomes of these 2014 House elections would be affected by short-term political forces.

Still, there are a significant number of vulnerable Democrats.  Specifically, 19 Democrats are considered first tier targets for Republicans (six from districts carried by Romney) as compared to 14 Republicans (six of whom represent districts that President Obama won).  Given that historically the president’s party loses on average 30 House seats during a midterm election, Democratic support for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship may insulate Democratic incumbents representing marginal seats.  Thus, while the Democrats have been the recipients of strong support from Latino voters in recent election cycles, as polling by Latino Decisions highlights, continued turnout for Democrats by many Latinos is dependent upon the role that Democrats play in immigration reform.

In sum, comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship enjoys broad popular support and passed the Senate with both Republican and Democratic votes.

Moreover, as the analysis presented here suggests, both Republicans and Democrats in the House are vulnerable to Latino influence as there are sufficient House seats presently held by both parties where Latino voters can tilt the outcome in 2014 in a manner that determines which party controls the House of Representatives in 2015.  Thus, despite ample commentary to the contrary, politicians from both parties have sufficient incentive to work together to produce a compromise immigration bill – a rare instance when good policy makes for good politics for both parties.

[1] For instance, during a recent appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) noted that if  “we don’t pass immigration reform, if we don’t get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way, it doesn’t matter who you run in 2016…We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community in my view is pass comprehensive immigration reform. If you don’t do that, it really doesn’t matter who we run in my view”
[2] There are three important caveats associated with this analysis.  First, the white and Latino voting age populations are from the 2010 Census and thus, do not reflect subsequent population change.  Second, voter turnout declines precipitously in midterm elections.  Typically, around 60% of eligible voters turnout in presidential elections as compared to just over 40% in midterm elections, with the decrease in turnout traditionally hurting the party of the sitting president.  Third, the competitiveness for a given House race is shaped by contextual factors (i.e., retirements, divisive primaries, and challenger quality) that at this point are largely unknown for most districts.
[3] The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) recently identified 23 Republican districts “where constituents will demand progress on immigration, and where those pressures could persuade our Republican colleagues to support true comprehensive immigration reform.” All but four of these districts (Gerlach, Meehan, and Fitzpatrick of PA and Joyce of Ohio) are included in our analysis.  We exclude these four because the districts were easily carried in 2012 (with the House Republicans running much stronger than Mitt Romney who narrowly won each district) and these districts contain small Latino voting age populations.  In other instances, members identified by the DCCC may be supportive of a compromise immigration bill, but are not in particularly competitive electoral contexts such as Florida’s Diaz-Balart, Ros-Lehtinen, and Young, as well as California’s Valadao, New Mexico’s Pearce, and New Jersey’s LoBiondo.  As a consequence, we place these districts in tier three.
View charts and graphs at

Cross-posted at Latino Decisions, Latino Vote Matters, and Daily Kos:

While the 2016 presidential election is a full three years away many of the high profile Republican contenders are enmeshed in the immigration reform debate, and if Republicans demonstrate strong leadership on passing comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship possible candidates such as Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan could get strong support from Latino voters.  However if Rubio, Bush or Ryan distance themselves from the immigration bill and House Republicans defeat the measure none of the GOP candidates stands to improve on the historic Romney 2012 defeat among Latinos. [Full poll results here]

new poll from Latino Decisions, on behalf of America’s Voice found Latino presidential voters are paying very close attention to the immigration debates in Washington D.C. and are evaluating the candidates by their words and actions on immigration reform.  Half of the respondents were read a prompt about Rubio working to pass immigration reform:

“Currently the U.S. Congress is debating a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States. Republican Marco Rubio played a key role in helping to pass this bill and with Rubio’s leadership undocumented immigrants receive legal status and a path to citizenship.”

Respondents were then asked how likely they would be to vote for Rubio in the 2016 presidential election.  54% of Latino voters said they were likely to vote for Rubio, including 50% of Latinos who voted for Obama in 2012, 46% of Latino Independents, and 55% of Latino voters age 18-34.  However, absent any prompting about Rubio working to ensure a final bill is passed, he failed to even reach the 30% support mark among Latinos.

Likewise, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush stands to gain if he leans in on the immigration debate and convinces fellow Republicans to pass the bill with a path to citizenship.  When respondents were read a prompt about Bush’s support for the immigration bill with a path to citizenship 47% of Latino voters said they were likely to vote for Bush in 2016, including 42% of those who just cast a ballot for Obama in 2012.

Finally, we asked Latino voters how they would evaluate former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan as a presidential contender in 2016.  In recent weeks, Ryan has become an outspoken support of immigration reform efforts, and could emerge as a critical actor in getting a bill out of the House.  We asked what effect it would have on Latino 2016 presidential voting, if Paul Ryan were to play a key role in getting immigration reform with a path to citizenship to pass the House.  Overall, 44% of Latino voters say they would be likely to vote for Ryan in 2016, including 47% of Independents and 40% of Latino Obama voters.  Even Ryan, who was part of the 2012 self-deport ticket, has an opportunity to rebuild his image and standing among Latinos by support immigration reform.

How much support do the GOP contenders need?

In 2012 Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 4.96 million votes, and according to Latino Decisions analysis of the election returns and Latino voting data, Latinos provided Obama with a 5.8 million vote margin.  If the Republicans could have won 40% of the Latino vote in 2012 that would have erased 3.6 million net votes – or 72% of the 4.96 million they lost by.  Republican don’t need to win the Latino vote outright, they just need to stop losing it so badly.  Although Latinos are not the only demographic that Republicans need to improve their showing with, they represent the single largest bloc of voters who are movable. An estimated 11.2 million Latinos cast a ballot in 2012 according to the Census, and more than 12.5 million are likely to cast a vote in 2016, further increasing the share of all voters who are Latino, nationally and in key states.  In 2004, George W. Bush won around 40% of the Latino vote and was able to carry states with large and growing Latino electorates like New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Florida and Virginia — all states that Obama won in 2008 and again in 2012.  The polling data today suggests Rubio most of all, but Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan as well, can equal or eclipse the 40% mark among Latinos if they provide leadership on immigration reform to get a bill signed into law.  However they remain far from the 40% mark right now.

The 2016 election if Immigration Reform does not pass

As we have pointed out in polling data before, Republicans will not get any credit for getting a bill through half of the Congress.  Latino voters expect to see the GOP successfully move immigration reform and send a true compromise bill to the President.  When asked who they would support if the 2016 presidential election were today, no more than 28% supported Rubio, no more than 25% supported Ryan, and no more than 30% supported Bush.  On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton is the runaway favorite among Latinos, and would take anywhere from 66% to 74% of the Latino vote if the election were today.  Vice President Joe Biden does not fare as well as Clinton though he still commands 30 to 40 point leads over Republican rivals.  Thus, Republicans need some momentum with Latino voters and Latino voters seem to say that passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill is the way forward.

Latino Vote in 2016 (as of July 1, 2013)

About the poll: Latino Decisions interviewed 1,200 Latino presidential voters from June 20-29, 2013.  All respondents were Latinos who had voted in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.  Respondents were interviewed by landline, cell phone, and online, in either English (61%) or Spanish (39%) at the discretion of the respondent.  The poll carries an overall margin of error of +- 2.8% on the full sample, and a margin of error of +- 4.0% on split samples of n=600.  Full toplines of the entire poll are posted here.

View images and charts here


On Thursday June 27, the U.S. Senate voted 68 - 32 to pass comprehensive immigration reform that included significant border security components, as well as a path to legal status and eventually citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Among the 68 yes votes were 14 Republican Senators voting yes in support of immigration reform, most vocally Senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio who implored their party that they must support a more pro-immigrant position to improve their standing with Latino voters.

Graham and Rubio are absolutely correct.  A Latino Decisions poll released just a few weeks ago noted that 45% of Latino voters would be more likely to support a Republican candidate who took a leadership role in passing comprehensive immigration reform - including 44% of Latinos who identify as Democrats.  What's more, after hearing a pro-immigration reform quote from Marco Rubio 69% of Latino voters said they had a more favorable impression of Rubio.

At the same time, 32 Republican Senators voted against the bill, some quite adamant in their opposition such as Jeff Sessions, John Cornyn and Chuck Grassley.  In addition, while some GOP Senators helped push the bill along to passage, the official National Republican Senatorial Committee says they will run campaign ads attacking Democrats for supporting immigration reform.  NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring told The Hill that Republicans plan to use immigration as a wedge issue and pit support for immigration reform against "middle-class men and women struggling in their home states."

The Republican Party is at a crucial crossroads.  If House Republicans stall or block immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants, it will be almost impossible for the party to compete nationally for Latino votes.  In our June 2013 survey we found the Republican Party had an overall approval of 27% among Latinos.  However when we informed half the sample that 3 Republicans had voted in favor of the immigration bill in Judiciary and helped move the bill forward Latino approval of the Republican party rose to 54%.  In contrast, when Latino voters were told that 5 Republican Senators had voted against the immigration bill in committee, only 8% said it made them more favorable to the GOP, while 59% said that information made them less favorable to the GOP.

Back in May 2013 just as the immigration debates were heating up, we asked Latino voters how they would evaluate the Republican Party in the case of a mixed outcome - where some Republican support immigration reform, but other Republicans work to defeat the bill.  As we noted in our May 3, 2013 post, Latinos will view Republicans even more negatively than they did in 2012 if the GOP now blocks the immigration bill:

There is an important caveat though — they must actually pass the bill in order to open a door with the Latino electorate. The Republican Party will not be rewarded simply for trying to pass a bill if their party also blocks it. We find the GOP will further damage their dismal standing with Latino voters if they block or otherwise thwart the effort that has enjoyed significant bi-partisan support among elected officials and the national electorate.

However, if more conservative voices in the Republican Party work against the current bipartisan efforts, they run a significant risk of further worsening their image among Latinos – even below 2012 levels.  In a new impreMedia-Latino Decisions poll released May 3, 2013, we asked Latino eligible voters how they would evaluate the Republican Party in light of both their outreach to Latinos, but also the potential opposition to the immigration bill.

Overall, we found 18% of Latino eligible voters would have a more favorable view of the Republican Party given their efforts to work on the immigration bill, however 41% would have a more negative view than the Republican Party if some Republicans work to defeat the immigration bill, and 39% say their image of the Republican Party would not change from the past year.  Because Republicans like Marco Rubio and John McCain have raised the immigration issue and said their party is committed to working on this issue, they have raised the stakes with Latino voters.  If conservative forces in their party now work to defeat the bill, they will not only get little credit, but their image could grow even worse than in 2012.

It is no wonder that Republican strategist Karl Rove has spoken out three times via Wall Street Journal editorials to direct his party to pass comprehensive immigration reform and do more outreach to Latino voters.  Rove first spoke out in November 2012, two weeks after the dust had settled from Obama's 75% margin among Latinos.  According to Karl Rove, all the talk about self-deportation lost Romney the Latino vote.  Turns out Rove was right.  When asked in theimpreMedia-Latino Decisions November 2012 pollof Latinos voters, 57% of 2012 Latino voters said Romney's self-deportation views and opposition to the DREAM Act made them less favorable towards the Republican candidate.  Only 7% of Latinos liked what Romney had to say.

Next, Rove spoke to Republicans in a June 6, 2013 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he correctly noted, "Immigration reform is now a gateway issue: Many Hispanics won't be open to Republicans until it is resolved."  On Wednesday the 26th - the day before the Senate vote - Rove reminded Republicans, again via his WSJ op-ed that "Immigration reform is a top issue for Latinos as it is being debated in Washington." In case the GOP forgot, Rove was the last to oversee a successful Republican White House run, and in 2004 helped W win close to 40% of the Latino, and along with it they won Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia.

When we have asked Latino voters how they would react to the Republican Party if they blocked immigration reform one of the most interesting findings of our March 2013 poll was that 33% of Latino Republicans said they would be less likely to consider voting Republican.  The poor showing that Mitt Romney had among Latinos in 2012 could actually get worse if Republicans are now branded as the party that brought down comprehensive immigration reform with one-third of Latino Republicans switching sides.

Now that comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship has passed the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support, Republicans in the House of Representatives face a crucial test in the eyes of Latino voters.  If Republicans demonstrate leadership on immigration reform behind the likes of Mario Diaz-Balart, Paul Ryan, and even John Boehner they have a great opportunity to improve their standing among Latinos.  However if they resort to anti-immigrant tactics like trying to repeal DACA or pass the SAFE Act, they will lose all hope of repairing their image with Latino voters, and perhaps with it, any hopes in 2016.

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