A new poll from America’s Voice and Latino Decisions shows immigration policy action and rhetoric weighs heavily in on Latino voters as they evaluate elected officials, parties, and their vote choices. The national survey of 500 Latino registered voters asked a novel set of questions to measure the extent to which position-taking and votes on the Gang of 8 immigration bill factor into Latino voter choices. [Webinar slide deck here] [Full topline results are posted here]
Rhetoric and Position Taking: Individual and Party Reward/Blame
The survey finds strongly worded public statements from GOP Senators Cruz and Sessions against the bill diminish the party’s standing — not just their own individual political prospects — within the Latino electorate (72% less favorable). At the same time, statements from Senator Rubio and Senator Menendez supporting the pathway to citizenship provision improved both their personal and party evaluations among Latino voters.
Respondents were provided with recent statements these four senators have made (see end notes for quotes) about the immigration bill, then asked whether the statement made them more or less favorable toward the Senator. Another set of respondents heard the same quote and was asked whether the statement made them more or less favorable toward the senator’s party. A point on methodology – the sample was split, in keeping with social science research standards, such that respondents were randomly assigned either one of the evaluation questions. No one person received both individual and party favorability questions.
The results demonstrate that there is no “distancing from the party” when it comes to the immigration reform bill and associated position-taking. It is perfectly reasonable that Latino voters view elected officials as spokespeople for their party, and either reward or blame them in similar proportion.
Bi-partisan Legislative Reform vs. Executive Order
We presented a new scenario to evaluate how the Latino electorate would respond if Congressional Republicans block this immigration reform bill, leading President Obama to issue an executive order to provide some form of legal status to undocumented immigrants. Should this happen, Republicans would lose a significant opportunity with the Latino electorate, and Democrats would continue to gain favor.
Over half of Latino voters, 53% become less favorable toward the Republican if they block the bill and the President issues an executive policy solution. Democrats would win favor with 63% of the Latino electorate, which makes sense. If policy advocacy only comes from one party, then (of course) Latinos will not distribute their votes evenly across the two. The Republican party can make inroads with Latino voters on immigration only if the reforms arrive with their participation and support in the legislative effort.
Immigration: Make or break issue to Latino vote
Finally, we examined whether passing this current immigration reform bill is enough to sway Latino voters to the Republican side. We asked those who do not identify (self-identified GOP partisans will continue to support) as Republicans:
“Some people we talk to don’t agree with the Republican Party on a variety of important issues, and even if the Republicans supported immigration reform with a path to citizenship, it would not change their opinion of the party. Other people say that while they might still disagree on some issues, if the Republicans support immigration reform with a path to citizenship they would be more favorable towards the party. How about you?”
The results could not be more clear. Over half of Latino voters say they would be more favorable to the party if only they pass immigration reform. It is so important that CIR now trumps all other issues and partisanship (note 47% of Democrats also say they would be more favorable) for a significant segment of the Latino electorate.
In combination these results tell us that Republicans have a unique opportunity to re-build relationships with Latino voters. Should they squander the moment by blocking the bill, they will effectively concede the majority of the Latino vote for many election cycles to come.
 Senator Cruz: “I have serious concerns about any legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for those who are here illegally. I think doing so is profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who have followed the rules. We should prohibit all federal, state and local benefits for those who are here illegally, and ensure that illegal immigrants are not given a path to citizenship.”
 Senator Sessions: “Citizenship for illegals will not help balance our budget. In fact, a large-scale amnesty is likely to add trillions of dollars to the debt over time because illegal immigrants will put enormous strain on our public-assistance programs. Illegal immigrants need government aid and can’t take care of themselves. We can never support this immigration reform bill.”
 Senator Rubio “The American people are the most compassionate people on earth; they have proven that over and over again. The question now is we have 11 million people in the country that are here illegally. We recognize we’re not going to round up 11 million people and deport them.”
 Senator Menendez: “The time has come for farm workers and fruit pickers, students and DREAMERS, cooks and maids, hotel workers and housekeepers, landscapers and construction workers, and non-citizen soldiers fighting to protect all of us, to have a chance to raise their hand and take the oath of citizenship. We must support immigration reform today.”
Sylvia Manzano is a senior analyst at Latino Decisions.