Is a Shift in Immigration Policy Unavoidable For the GOP?

By Andrew Canfield, Contributor to US Daily Review

A top tier presidential contender is distinguished by the poise exhibited when answering criticism leveled by his or her opponents. After the media attention given to his in-state tuition policy toward children of illegal immigrants, Texas governor Rick Perry would have been wise to construct a plausible counterargument when the topic predictably surfaced during one of the numerous GOP debates. Whether it was inadequate debate prep or just a temporary slip, Mr. Perry’s decision to label as “heartless” those opposed to such a policy was one of a cascading number of setbacks back for his commander-in-chief ambitions.

Many in the Republican base were as puzzled by Mr. Perry’s wording as they were the tuition policy itself; the grassroots backlash mirrored anger over George W. Bush’s 2007 ill-fated immigration reform efforts. Failing to see the political angling on immigration through the broader context of American’s shifting demographic make-up ensures the further meting out of Republican bafflement toward proposals of the sort offered by Mr. Bush and Perry.

Appealing to the growing Hispanic voter base is a readily apparent necessity to Perry—or, more accurately, his cadre of advisors. The tuition policy as well as the tame language Perry employs when discussing immigration demonstrates how much the burgeoning Latino voting base weighs on the thought processes of Republicans with lofty aspirations.

Unfortunately for Republican proponents of a softer immigration stance, Governor Perry managed to earn just 38% of the Hispanic vote during his 2010 re-election bid. This represented only a slight uptick from John McCain’s subpar statewide performance among this same demographic in 2008. Delving deeper into the numbers produces disconcerting news for future Republican candidates hoping for  broad appeal among Hispanics: both McCain in 2008 and Perry two years later failed to win the 18 to 29 age group in Texas (a sample of the more diverse make-up that will comprise Texas’s electorate in a generation.) Their double digit statewide wins occurred thanks to the substantial margin of victory run up among senior citizens.

While the percentage of the electorate comprised of Hispanic voters remained nearly flat in the two largest states (California and Texas) between 2004 and 2008, Nevada saw a 50% increase in the Hispanic share of the vote (from 10% to 15%), New Mexico a 28% jump (from 32 to 41%), and Arizona a 25% jump (from 12% to 16%) during this same four year span.

These numbers represent stark growth in such a short time frame, and it becomes clear how any substantial increase in this demographics’ political activity could prove pivotal in the outcome of state and federal elections. Considering the relatively low turnout numbers among Hispanic voters, much room for growth is still exists.  68% of Hispanics nationwide went for Barack Obama in 2008 compared to 63% for Mr. Kerry four years prior; Republican operatives have a sinking feeling they know all too well which party would benefit from such a spike in Latino political engagement.

Since the small vote margins Republicans run up among white voters are often erased by the more politically united African-American constituency, Hispanic voters are becoming more of a swing factor with each ensuing election cycle. As with independents, avoiding a blowout among Hispanic voters is an absolutely necessity; while victory is desirable, at least remaining competitive with these subgroups is seem as critical to avoiding a loss. While Republicans generally do not expect to emerge winners among Latino voters, they do hope to stay competitive enough to avert losses that extend too far into double digit territory. Considering the margins achieved by Mr. Kerry and Mr. Obama, such hope appears tenuous for the time being.

A 55-45 margin could be withstood by Republican candidates; alarms begin to sound once their share of the vote creeps below 40% Even in 2004, George W. Bush, not exactly known for his overtures to anti-immigrant forces, failed to carry the Hispanic vote in his home state, losing 49 to 50% to the senator from Massachusetts.

It is no wonder then Mr. Perry so aggressively defends the in-state tuition plan, a policy as calculating as it is derided among conservatives. After all, if Mr. Bush struggled to stay close in his home state during such a favorable Republican year, the prospects of Republicans consistently staying competitive among Latinos looks to be a tall mountain to climb. Apparently some party operatives have make the decision that climbing this mountain is worth offending significant portions of the traditional conservative base in the process.

Andrew Canfield is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington and a resident of Bossier City, Louisiana. He is the community relations director at a property management company and enjoys writing for the local newspaper and fitness web sites in his spare time.

Andrew is a fan of outdoor activities, and loves running and cycling in his spare time. His favorite economic author is F.A. Hayek, and he considers himself a libertarian Republican.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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