As immigration rhetoric in the Republican presidential nomination campaign continues to escalate and GOP candidates who were once perceived as immigration moderates tack to the right, it is worth considering how immigration politics and policy affect Latino voters; a voting block that is positioned to be influential in 2016. We at Latino Decisions have conducted over 100,000 interviews with Latino voters in the last several years and have an extensive reservoir of public opinion data assessing these voters’ immigration preferences and measuring how immigration politics shape Latino voters’ decisions to turn out to vote and for whom to cast their ballots. Below, we highlight the top 10 data points from our archives.
- Immigration is a Latino policy priority. In the Latino Decisions 2014 Election Eve Poll, 45% of Latino voters indicated that immigration was the most important issue facing the Latino community that should be addressed by politicians. In the recent impreMedia/Latino Decisions Battleground States Survey, 36% of likely Latino voters indicated that immigration is the most important issue facing the Latino community that should be addressed by politicians.
- Immigration affects Latino political behavior. In the Latino Decisions 2014 Election Eve Poll, 67% of respondents reported that immigration was the most important or one of the most important issues affecting their decision to turn out to vote and their vote choice. In political science paper published in the journal Electoral Studies in December 2015, Loren Collingwood and Matt Barreto find that Obama’s 2012 executive action on immigration (DACA) was the single most important variable in predicting the Latino vote for Obama, more relevant even than calling yourself a strong Democrat or being a Liberal.
- For most Latino voters, immigration is a personal issue. In the Latino Decisions 2014 Election Eve Poll of Latino Midterm voters, 58% of Latino nationally and 65% in the key swing states of Colorado and Nevada reported that they know a family member, friend, co-worker, or someone else who is an undocumented immigrant. In a June 2013 national survey of all Latino registered voters 67% said they personally know an undocumented immigrant. Half of this 67% said it is someone in their family – that’s 1/3 of Latino registered voters who has an undocumented immigrant family member. THIS IS A PERSONAL ISSUE.
- Latino voters oppose a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. In the July 2013 America’s Voice/Latino Decisions Congressional Battleground Poll 65% of respondents were unlikely to support legislation that only extended a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and 71% were unlikely to support legislation allowing for legal status contingent upon 90% of immigrants being either stopped at the border or arrested. Indeed, among midterm Latino voters, 64% see Republicans’ efforts to require border security prior to considering a pathway to citizenship as an excuse to block that pathway altogether.
- Latino voters overwhelmingly support the comprehensive immigration reform that passed the Senate in 2013, and how candidates have voted on comprehensive immigration reform is very important to Latino voters.. In the July 2013 America’s Voice/Latino Decisions CIR Poll 84% of Latino voters responded that they supported legislation that increased border security and enforcement of our existing immigration laws, required employers to verify that all employees have legal status, and provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as long as they passed a background check, studied English, and paid a fine. In the same poll, 81% indicated that Congress should address border security and a path to citizenship together.
- Immigration can be a positive for Republicans. In the July 2013 America’s Voice/Latino Decisions 2016 Presidential Survey, 54% of Latino voters indicated that Marco Rubio’s role in helping to pass legislation including a pathway to citizenship in the U.S. Senate made them very or somewhat likely to consider voting for him for President. However, Rubio’s more recent shift to the right — including his calls for the elimination of the DACA program — has not been lost on the Latino electorate. In the impreMedia/Latino Decisions Battleground States Survey just 32% of Latino voters residing in battleground states have a favorable or very favorable view of Rubio and his net favorable rating among these voters is minus eight.
- While Latino voters blame both parties for the failure of comprehensive immigration reform, more of this blame is directed at the Republicans. In the July 2013 America’s Voice/Latino Decisions CIR Poll 39% of Latino voters responded that Republicans would be responsible for blocking comprehensive immigration, 9% blamed the Democrats, and 48% blamed both parties. Latino want to see both parties work together to address this issue like the bipartisan bills in 2007 and again in 2013.
- With the failure of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, Latino voters support executive action aimed at easing deportation. In the June 2014 Center for American Progress Action Fund/Latino Decisions Immigration Poll, we asked Latino voters about a number of potential executive actions with 61% and 59% of respondents indicating that the two most important steps the president can take are stopping the deportations of undocumented parents of US citizens and stopping the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for over ten years.
- The immigration rhetoric of individual Republicans hurts the entire Republican Party. In the impreMedia/Latino Decisions Battleground States Survey, 80% of Latino voters responded that Donald Trump’s assertion that Mexico is sending immigrants who are drug dealers, criminals, and rapists and calling for the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants made a very or somewhat unfavorable impression of the Republican Party. Ben Carson’s likening immigration to a war that should be prosecuted militarily (“one drone strike, boom, and they’re gone”) resulted in 69% of respondents having a very or somewhat unfavorable view of the Republican Party. The July 2013 America’s Voice/Latino Congressional Battleground Poll provides other examples of how the language used by individual Republicans to discuss immigration can either help or hinder the party’s impression among Latino voters.
- The Republicans’ handling of immigration makes it difficult for many Latino voters to consider supporting GOP candidates. In the Latino Decisions 2014 Election Eve Poll, 40% of Latino voters agreed with the statement that “The Republican Party has now become so anti-immigrant, and anti-Latino that it would be hard for me to consider supporting them.”
Dr. David Damore is a Senior Analyst at Latino Decisions. He is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Senior Nonresident Fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program. Damore has been cited as an expert on Latino voting by the Las Vegas Sun and L.A. Times, and identified by FiveThirtyEight as a lead Nevada expert.