Immigration Reform: Does Data Show It's a Waste Of Time For the GOP?

The RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project has been drawing a lot of attention since its release last week. The report is an autopsy of what went wrong for the Republican Party last year and stresses, among other things, the importance of building relationships with minority communities throughout the U.S.

Much of what the report recommends covers what I had written about in my article on why Republicans are failing to connect with most millennials. Overall, whites broke for Mitt Romney 59%-39%; which is the biggest share of the white vote any Republican candidate has won since 1988. Romney’s share of the white vote compromised 43% of the overall electorate while Barack Obama’s made up 29%. But minorities are what made up the difference. Blacks broke for Obama 93%-6% and Latinos did the same by 71%-27%. In fact, Romney’s share of the minority vote compromised less than 5% of the overall electorate while Obama’s was 22%, helping clinch his 51% majority victory.

Simply put, if this were still the electorate of 20 years ago – where whites made up 87% of voters – Romney would’ve won by 54%. But that’s no longer the case. Whites are 72% today. Non-whites are 28% and growing (including 39% of millennials) and unless the GOP starts attracting a larger share of these demographics, the voting trends spell doom for them going forward:

The biggest change of any voting demographic between the 2004 and 2012 elections was Latinos. In 2004, Latinos broke for George W. Bush by 44% - a critical vote in Bush’s 51%-48% win over John Kerry. By 2012, Romney only won 27% of Latinos.

Many conservatives noticed this immediately. It was only a matter of time before comprehensive immigration reform became the new hot topic on everyone’s lips, and the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” has been working on crafting a bill for months now.

It’s no secret that immigration stances have made a difference with the Latino vote. Ronald Reagan supported the Immigration Reform and Control Act that granted amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. before 1982. He got 37% of the Latino vote in 1984. Bob Dole came down hard on illegal immigrants, vowing to increase the number of Border Patrol agents, create additional detention centers for illegal immigrants, deny public benefits to illegal immigrants, crack down on those who overstayed their visas, and streamline the deportation process. He got 21% of the Latino vote in 1996 – a 16-point drop from Reagan. Bush supported the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act which would have provided legal status and a path to citizenship for approximately 12 million illegal immigrants. He got 44% of the Latino vote in 2004. During the 2012 primaries, Romney sounded more like Dole, vowing to crack down on illegal immigrants, deny them benefits and ramp up border security. He got 27% of the Latino vote – a 17-point drop from Bush.

It’s also worth mentioning that Reagan and Bush were governors from border states.

But will immigration reform be the end all, be all when it comes to winning the Latino vote back? Actually, it’s more complicated than that.

A stunning find from the Pew Research Center paints a bleak picture for the GOP: Three-quarters of Latinos (75%) say they prefer a big government which provides more services to a small one providing fewer services. By contrast, just 41% of the public at large voice support for more government.

Ouch.

Support for a larger government is highest among immigrant Latinos, with 81% holding this view. That falls to 72% among second-generation Latinos and 58% among third-generation Latinos, which is interesting.

It’s no secret that many Latinos want to come to the U.S. But once they arrive (legally or illegally), the question then becomes, “Now what?”

Another study from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) shows that high percentages of legal and illegal immigrants in America are drawing benefits from at least one major form of welfare. Using Census Bureau data from 2010 and 2011, the center analyzed more than 50 million legal and illegal immigrants and their American-born children under 18 years of age. Large numbers, the study found, are struggling in poverty, reliant on welfare and uninsured.

Welfare enrollment was highest for households headed by immigrants originating in Mexico, with 57% participation. Guatemalan immigrants were second (55%) and Dominicans were third (54%). Immigrants with the lowest rate of welfare participation were those from the United Kingdom (6%), Germany (10%) and Canada (13%), according to the report.

Compared with households headed by U.S. natives, twice as many headed by immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years access welfare programs. Also, 36% of immigrant-headed households are on welfare programs (primarily food stamps and Medicaid) compared to 23% of native households.

The CIS identified the two biggest factors responsible for most of the high immigrant poverty rate (and it wasn't lack of work ethic): limited education and lack of fluent English. Fully 28% of immigrants have not completed high school, compared to just 7% of natives.

It’s no wonder then that support for more government declines with each generation that receives education and learns to speak English. It’s also no surprise that 62% of Latinos supported Obamacare according to a Fox News Latino poll, compared with only 42% of the overall population according to the Real Clear Politics average.

So is this demographic a lost cause for the GOP? Not necessarily, but changing it won’t happen overnight. One could arguably make the case that making hostile threats of deportation and taking away benefits from illegal immigrants might be turning most Latinos off from the rest of the GOP’s message. And if they’re not even listening to the GOP’s message, they’re only listening to the Democrats’ message 24/7. Next thing you know, three out of four start seeing big government as the solution to all of life’s problems.

Take note, Republicans. Relaxing all the deportation talk is a start to mending fences with this critical, and growing, demographic.