While the fate of immigration reform is still in question many pundits and analysts have come to the conclusion the GOP desperately needs immigration reform. To perpetrate this narrative the media picks on individual Republicans efforts such as Senator Jeff Sessions to kill the Senate bill. Sessions has criticized the reform from the start. But does the GOP really need immigration reform to continue to be competitive in future elections?
The evidence at first glance seems to point overwhelmingly towards this conclusion. In 2004 George Bush, campaigning on immigration reform and family values, won 44% of the Hispanic vote. Since that time the GOP has failed to break the 40% mark among Hispanics. The closest the GOP came was 38% in 2010. Meanwhile, in 2012 Mitt Romney carried a mere 27% of the Hispanic vote. Some evidence points to Romney only carrying 23% of the Hispanic vote in key swing states such as Colorado and Nevada. Combined with continual GOP weakness among African-Americans and Asians most believe the GOP must improve its performance among these groups to be competitive in future nationwide elections. The actions of GOP Presidential hopefuls such as Rand Paul have only fueled these beliefs.
But electoral results from only four elections does not mean a trend will last. Nor does it mean the electoral interests of these voting groups will not change. For example, from 1968 to 1992 the GOP won the Asian vote. In the mid to late 19th century the GOP also won the majority of the African-American vote. There are a dozen other examples that could be listed that go beyond racial groups. Just think Southern whites turning Republican and Northeastern whites turning moderate Republicans to liberal Democrats.
Certainly there is opposition in GOP circles to immigration reform. But it is also important to keep in mind that the Senate and House version are currently different and finalized versions are likely to be the same. The Senate version focuses less on border security and more on providing a path to citizenship (takes 13 years and you must pay a fee). The House version, not as far along as the Senate version, does not provide a path to citizenship, focuses more on improving the immigration process to incentive highly skilled workers to come to the US and more on border security.
It makes sense Democrats would feel they need to deliver in some form on immigration reform. Since the 2006 election Democrats have been promising Hispanics they would deliver on the issue. Yet come 2009 and 2010 when Democrats controlled all levers of government they failed to act on this promise. Coming into 2012 some thought this might benefit the GOP. But having their standard-bearer supporting self-deportation destroyed the GOP’s chances with this key demographic group.
Republicans are expected to invest heavily in courting minorities come 2014 and 2016. As mentioned above it may soon be impossible for them to win nationwide elections without at least 35%-40% of the minority vote. Republicans do have many young up and coming minority candidates already in positions of power. Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Tim Scott, Governors Brian Sandoval, Susana Martinez and Nikki Haley are some of the most well known politicians.
But Republicans electoral ambitions are not the only thing at stake on immigration reform. Democrats have continually promised reform on the issue and failed to deliver. It is possible in the future that if Democrats do not deliver and the GOP finds a way to connect with Hispanics that Democratic margins among the group may drop. Worse, from a Democrat’s electoral perspective, if Hispanics feel like they are being used by both parties while getting little in return they may simply stop showing up at the polls. There is evidence to suggest disenfranchised groups do not show up to vote no matter there preferences or ideology (think unemployed).
Both parties have much to gain through immigration reform. Republicans can get a secure border, give out more highly skilled visas and soften their image among Hispanics and Asians. Democrats can deliver on a promise they have been making for the better part of a decade to Hispanics. Obstacles remain, some on the GOP side, others on the Democratic side, but both sides have much to gain from reform. Who gains more may depend on how minorities interpret the debate and passage/failure of the reform.