The battle over immigration reform appears to be far from over. That is unless you buy into the notion the GOP must pass the Senate version or fade into obscurity. One of the most interesting notions of the “Pass reform or die” crowd is that redistricting and political polarization has led to the GOP House’s opposition to reform. The Senate does not redistrict so that must explain why senators McCain, Flake and Graham from solid red states voted for reform. Um, not so much.
Sean Trende, as usual, has a nifty graph to showcase the voting percentage of Obama and Romney districts. Summarizing his points, Romney only won 9 Congressional Districts (out of 226) by 60+%. Obama on the other hand won over 40 by that margin (out of 209 plus DC). This dynamic has been ongoing since 2000 where minorities and Democrats pack into urban strongholds and essentially waste their votes in local and congressional races.
Following this line of thought the more partisan and safe a district is the more likely it is to be expected that the Representative will be highly ideological. But how does this pan out in real life in say the Senate? Not well. Consider that in Wisconsin outspoken liberal Tammy Baldwin is paired with ultra-conservative Ron Johnson. Ohio has a progressive hero in Sherrod Brown while red states like AZ and SC have John McCain and Lindsey Graham, not exactly fire-breathing conservatives. Few states that are really moderate have moderate Senators. Only states with hostile electorates really have moderate candidates (Susan Collins in Maine or Mark Pryor in Arkansas).
In Congress the trend is largely the same. Moderate to swing districts represented by Democrats have largely had Representatives that have voted with their party at least 80% of the time. The logic for these members is likely campaign tactics 101. In a swing district you focus on your base first and only when they are locked up do you target swing voters. So if Democrats have fewer swing voters to target does this not mean they are more ideological as a result as they play to their bases and try to avoid a primary?
The data above thus indicates that it is not the GOP that suffers from to-safe districts. It is Democrats. But I doubt you would ever hear anybody say this. It does not sound good in an article or a sound bite. The counter-argument to an analysis of election returns and finding that Democrats are in safer districts would be that the GOP has little incentive to reach out to minorities by passing reform. Maybe true at the Congressional level but not in Presidential or statewide elections. The GOP needs all the votes it can get in those races regardless of where they come from. And GOP leadership at the state and federal level still does have sway with Congressional members.
So, if we assume GOP intransigence on immigration reform is not due to ideological rigidity fed by safe districts and redistricting what explains their hesitance to act? Probably a number of factors.
It is true GOP Senators have a bigger stake in immigration reform, especially if they see it as a vehicle to court growing minority populations in their states. But that vehicle could fall short. As mentioned in a prior article, blacks are worried about reform’s impact on their job prospects. Also, whites, the GOP’s constituency, do not trust the government to secure the borders and thus likely look less kindly on a GOP that passes amnesty first and border security later. So if blacks and whites look less kindly on GOP Senators who vote for the bill does that help them? Probably not.
Other obstacles to immigration reform include the fact the GOP is increasingly worried about the debt. The CBO report on the Senate bill that estimated it would save money over 10 years assuaged some Senators but was meant with mostly a sneer by many House Republicans. Congressional Republicans also oppose the number of goodies in the bill, amnesty first, and the limited time spent revamping the HB-1 Visa system for migrant and highly skilled immigrants. All these criticisms are a far cry from opposing it for electoral reasons. It seems support for it among GOP circles is built largely on electoral calculation.
Still, this analysis and more like it are likely to fall on deaf ears. Once a trend or view has been decided on, on an issue than it tends to stick throughout the entire process. Sadly, that means much of the analysis on immigration reform is going to be wrong and the GOP is going to be blamed endlessly for holding up reform. If more thorough analysis was done some might note blacks side with Republicans on many issues in the debate, as do whites, and GOP Congressional opposition is rooted in more than ideology. I am not holding my breath for this realization.