Immigration Reform 2013: Citizenship and Religion Won't Deliver GOP Latino Vote

One lesson from the 2012 presidential election that some elements of the Republican Party have taken is that the old methods that will not work. Mitt Romney had a goal of winning 61% of the white vote, a goal he came within inches of achieving with 59%. Yet even hitting that target probably would not have helped Romney, as Obama won the African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic vote by large margins. In particular, Obama won the Hispanic vote by 44 points.

Hispanics are poised to be the fastest growing ethnic group in the coming decade. There is a growing sense among all levels of the Republican Party, from noted policy gurus like Grover Norquist to media personalities such as Sean Hannity, that the Republican Party is losing a demographic battle on issues such as immigration. Immediately after Obama’s victory, Sean Hannity called for immigration reform on his radio program as a magic bullet for the GOP’s Latino problem. Hispanics are also seen a promising demographic for conservative candidates due to their levels of religious affiliation. However, this misguided view of the Hispanic electorate does not take into account underlying issues with the Republican Party that contribute to Hispanic apathy towards the GOP.

One of the most important pillars of the idea that Hispanics are a naturally fertile demographic for future support of the Republican Party is the idea that their high levels of religious affiliation will make the Republican’s Party’s position on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage attractive. The actual evidence shows that this does not bear out in practice. An ABC News exit poll taken shortly after the election showed that two thirds of Hispanics in the United States supported abortion; 66% agreed that abortion should be legal, with 28% disagreeing. This, surprisingly enough, is actually higher than the proportion among all voters, with 59% supporting and 37% opposed.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, ABC News polls show that 59%, practically six-in-ten, of Hispanic voters think that same-sex marriage should be legalized, with 42% opposing. This is drastically higher than support among all voters, with all voters having an approval rating of 48% and disapproval of 47% respectively. White voters had the highest disapproval for same-sex marriage, with 50% opposition vs. 47% approval.

Even worse for the prospect that Hispanics can be attracted to the Republican Party is the idea that Hispanics will unconditionally support the Republican Party if they can manage to get immigration reform passed and associated with the GOP. However an impreMedia-Latino Decisions poll showed that the top issue nationally was the economy, at 53%. Immigration reform was behind at 35%. And when it comes to the economy Hispanic voters differ greatly from a fundamental axiom of the Republican Party, the size of government and taxation.

In the same poll, Hispanics supported the Affordable Care Act, the oft-derided Obamacare, by large majorities: 61%. When it comes to the deficit, 42% of Hispanics support a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Equally worrying for the Republican Party should be the figure of 35% that supported raising taxes on the wealthy. The approach, preferred by many in the Republican Party, deficit reduction through spending cuts only and only received 12% support. A National Journal/Allstate poll on the proper role of government had only 25% of Hispanics agree that the government is the problem with regards to the economy, drastically lower then 42% of whites polled. 34% of Hispanics thought government should play an active role, but were not sure they could trust government to do these tasks. The highest-ranking opinion was 37% agreeing that the government must play an active role in regulating the marketplace. This is not encouraging news for prominent Hispanic Republicans such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz who hold positions more in line with the Tea Party orthodoxy.

A look at the long voting trends of Hispanic further puts to rest this idea. Looking back on the New York Times exit polls provides a final fact. The largest amount of Hispanic support achieved since the modern Republican party evolved into its current form under Ronald Reagan was losing the vote by only 4.7% in President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection. In every other presidential election since 1980, the Hispanic vote has been overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party.

Overall Hispanic political preferences run counter to the idea that besides immigration, Hispanics would be Republicans. It can clearly been seen that they differ with the Republican party on fundamental issues and it would take a major ideological shift for them to support the party. Whether the Republican party can recognize this remains to be seen.