Recent elections demonstrate that immigration is a mobilizing issue for Latino voters. We can be sure that Congressional action, or inaction, on the current comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill will factor in to Latino voting decisions in 2014 and beyond. Our recent polling finds a majority of Latino voters, 58%, cite immigration reform as the most important issue, and the overwhelming preference for a pathway to citizenship is clear. If the Republican Party is to gain any Latino support as a function of their efforts on CIR, the bill must maintain a clear and concise path to citizenship.
Over half of Latino voters (52%) have voted for GOP candidates in the past, and 43% are open to voting for the Republican Party if they take a leadership role in advancing CIR inclusive of a path to citizenship. 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:
Recently the Republican National Committee came forward and said they need to do a better job reaching out to Latino voters. While some Republicans have been working on a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, other Republicans still oppose immigration reform and say they will try to delay and stop immigration reform from passing. Even though some Republicans are trying to help pass immigration reform, if other Republicans work to defeat the bill, how will this make you feel about the Republican Party nationally? Would you now feel more favorable, less favorable, or no change in how you feel about the Republican Party?
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.
Since the Gang of Eight held their first press conference earlier this year, some House and Senate members have expressed their plans to block the bill entirely or re-direct the bill’s focus to increased border enforcement and spending. Such efforts ignore the impetus for a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the first place, which is to address the millions of undocumented immigrants already working and living in the United States.
In the months since President Obama’s re-election, GOP elected officials and party leaders have repeatedly said the party needs to do a better job with Latino voters in terms of both tone and policy, specifically, on immigration policy.
No matter what else the Republican party says or does between now and the next elections, their actions on this bill will be remembered and factored into Latino voter decisions. This is the GOP’s big chance to act on their own advice and signal their seriousness about Latino outreach and the party’s future.
Sylvia Manzano is a senior analyst at Latino Decisions.