Polling Election Results Show Anti-Immigrant Candidates Face Long Odds Given Demographic Realities

Virginia and New Jersey Offer Clear Lesson for National GOP in 2014 and Beyond on Immigration

Press Release originally posted at America’s Voice

Washington, DC – An election-eve poll of extremely likely Latino and Asian voters in Virginia, conducted by Latino Decisions and sponsored by America’s Voice and People For the American Way (PFAW), shows that what candidates say and do on immigration has a direct impact on voter perception of the two parties and the results of close elections.  When viewing the Republicans’ loss in Virginia alongside the Party’s successes in New Jersey, it’s clear that winning candidates in states with diverse electorates must find a way to appeal to the growing Latino and Asian electorates through issues like immigration.

According to Gary Segura, Professor of American Politics and Chair of Chicano/a Studies, Stanford University and Co-Founder of Latino Decisions, “Like recent GOP presidential candidates, those seeking the Virginia’s governorship need to address the new demographic reality in the US and the Commonwealth.  Cuccinelli got 89% of his votes from whites and that’s not going to cut it in the new American electorate. The demography is relentless.”

Added Xavier Medina Vidal, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech, “Exit poll data from last night virtually ignored a growing and important feature of the Virginia’s present and future electorate. Asian and Hispanic voters in Virginia, segments of the electorate that McAuliffe embraced and Cuccinelli and the Tea Party pushed away, sent a signal to the national GOP that their votes might be up for grabs if they are able to reign in the Tea Party and dial down the pessimism and obstructionism.”

Groups on the ground have been working tirelessly over the last several months to make contact with Virginia’s Latino and Asian voters and encourage them to turn voters out to the polls.  The NCLR Action Fund, in partnership with the League of United Latin America, made over 75,000 calls and reached out to almost 30,000 households to educate Hispanic voters about both candidates’ immigration positions.  People for the American Way also devoted significant resources to Latino outreach in Virginia, investing in Spanish-language ads to highlight Ken Cuccinelli’s extremist immigration views.

Said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, “If Republicans continue their strategy of alienating large groups of Americans, they will continue their losing streak at the polls. Ken Cuccinelli’s performance among Latinos is the perfect example of this.”

In contrast to Virginia, results in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race show that by embracing pro-immigrant policies and prioritizing Latino outreach, Republican candidates can compete for and win Latino voters.  Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) went from losing Latino voters by a 65%-32% margin to Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009 exit polls to winning Latino voters outright, (51%-45% per network exit polls) as part of his victory over Democratic opponent Barbara Buono.

Said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “This is truly the tale of two candidates.  In Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli’s anti-Latino and anti-immigrant statements and positions led him to lose big with Latinos and Asian-American voters.  In New Jersey, Chris Christie’s outreach and pro-immigrant positions led him to win a majority of Latino voters.  The national GOP should heed the lessons of Virginia and New Jersey, starting with whether to pass immigration reform or block it: turn your back on communities that closely identify with the immigrant experience and you will lose; extend a sincere welcome – in tone and policy – and you can win.”

Below are some of the key takeaways from Tuesday’s election results and what this means heading into 2014 and beyond (crosstabs of the poll results are available here, toplines  available here).

In Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli had Mitt-Romney-like numbers among Latino and Asian voters, in large part due to his anti-immigrant record: Virginia Latino voters supported Terry McAuliffe over Ken Cuccinelli by a 66%-29% margin, while Asian voters supported McAuliffe by a 63%-34% margin.  By comparison, in Latino Decisions’ 2012 Election Eve polling in Virginia, Latinos supported President Obama over Mitt Romney by a 66%-31% margin (Asian voters supported Obama over Romney by a 66%-32% margin in 2012, per network exit polls).

Cuccinelli’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and record won him few friends among Virginia’s Latino and Asian voters – this Washington Post story features testimonials from Latino voters about the importance and personal lens through which many Latino and Asian voters view the immigration debate. The Latino Decisions election eve poll found that a strong majority of Latinos and Asians were less enthusiastic about Cuccinelli after hearing a range of his anti-immigrant statements and positions and that the majority of Virginia’s Latino voters – 59% – reported knowing an undocumented immigrant.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie leaned into immigration reform and Latino outreach and dramatically improved his performance among Latinos compared to 2009. Gov. Christie supports immigration reform with citizenship, reversed course and publicly endorsed the New Jersey Dream Act, and spent heavily on Spanish language TV, radio, and mail.  This is a major reason Gov. Christie went from losing Latino voters by a 65%-32% margin to Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009 per exit polls to winning Latino voters outright, 51%-45%, against Democratic nominee Barbara Buono, per 2013 network exit polls.  Compared to 2009, Christie improved his performance among Latino voters by 59%! See here for more on the immigration reform record and rhetoric of Chris Christie.

It will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win states like New Jersey or Virginia – or many other elections nationwide – by following the Cuccinelli model instead of the Christie model.  As The Fix political team at the Washington Post noted, the non-white electorate in Virginia grew from 22% in 2009 to 28% in 2013 gubernatorial race, assessing that for the national Republican Party, “Christie’s win, contrasted with Cuccinelli’s loss, could hardly provide a starker contrast for the GOP and a clearer message about how it wins in the future.”

Concluded Dolores Huerta, Co-Founder of the United Farm Workers Union, the Dolores Huerta Foundation and longtime civil rights and labor activist, “The results and level of turnout amongst Latinos certainty give us the map of the work we have to do in the future.  We know that Republicans have announced that they will spend 10 million dollars in outreach to Latino voters, and I hope that what happened in New Jersey will kind of be some sort of template for them. What happened in New Jersey and Virginia should give House leadership a lot of impetus to bring immigration reform to the floor for a vote.”

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