President Obama won his recent re-election with a whopping 71% of Hispanic votes, and exit polls show that now Hispanics make up 10% of the electorate. Significantly, the Republican share of Hispanic votes has dropped to 27% – down from 40% under George W. Bush in 2004 (Pew Hispanic Center). It has been argued by many, including columnist Charles Krauthammer shortly after the election that “[Hispanics] should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example)…[t]he principal reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants” (The Detroit News). President Obama himself observed, “Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community” (CNN).
On a purely mathematical level this may not be true. Allison Kopicki and Will Irving convincingly argued against the Hispanic vote being pivotal in an article for The New York Times. Kopicki and Irving analyzed exit polls and argued that Obama would have won the election regardless of the Hispanic vote. They also found that Hispanics are more liberal than Krathammer and the Republican parties believe, and may be a harder win for the Republicans than the party is hoping for (Kopicki and Irving, New York Times). This is not to dismiss the importance of the Hispanic vote – but rather the Republican party needs to do more than focus on the Hispanic population. With states like Texas (the second largest Electoral College heavyweight) poised to have a majority non-white population by 2020 (Chicago Sun Times), the GOP needs to be comprehensive in its approach to party reform, as focusing on the Hispanic population alone is unlikely to produce the votes the Republicans need in the next two or four years. However, with the rate of growth of that demographic, even if the Republicans did not lose the election on the Hispanic vote alone, this is not to say this would not be the case eight years from now. While predictions at this point are meaningless, it would not be in the GOP’s interest to continue to incorporate into their platform issues that are in opposition to a wide range of minority interests – including Hispanics and immigration issues.
In the aftermath of the electoral loss, Republican party figures are focusing largely on Hispanics as key to turning the party around. Glenn Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican political research firm, concluded of the election that
…if you win the swing groups but lose the election, that means the Democrats have a clear home field advantage. There are more Democrats. That underscores that we have to do better as a party with Hispanics. It will be hard to push white voter support for Democrats lower than 39% (which is all Obama got). Thus, to have a chance, Republicans have to appeal to Hispanics (The Nation).
They are responding to the demographic shift I spoke about in my previous entry, which I think is a good thing for the GOP. But I am inclined to agree with Kopicki and Irving’s analysis that the election itself did not turn on the Hispanic vote in this particular election and I think Bolger’s conclusion is too quick to ignore other non-white ethnicities besides Hispanics. This is possibly due to Hispanics being viewed as the minority most inclined to Republican values, as the Krauthammer assessment quoted earlier underscores. In restating a lesson many non-politicians learned in preschool, Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal stated, “If we want people to like us, we have to like them first” (Huffington Post). This is a fundamental problem the modern Republican party faces: their conservative message is lost behind a public face that is one of dismissal (Romney’s “47% comment”) or perceived prejudice against non-whites (See, Slate.com and the racial profiling connection to the GOP Platform I mentioned in my previous entry). The GOP knows it, too. Ron Kaufman, a Romney campaign adviser said, ‘‘We need to make sure that we’re not perceived as intolerant…[t]he bottom line is we were perceived to be intolerant on some issues. And tone-deaf on others” (Associated Press).
What does all this mean for impending immigration reform? Not much. Republican members of Congress, in response to the popular DREAM Act, have proposed ACHIEVE. The DREAM Act is currently Obama administration policy but not law. ACHIEVE would allow for a legal status, but as co-sponsor Senator Hutchinson said, “…it doesn’t allow them to cut in line in front of people who have come and abided by the rules of our laws today” (NPR). To qualify for ACHIEVE, you need to be between 14 and 28, have no criminal record, and have lived in the US for the past five years (ABC). From an activist perspective, the ACHIEVE act falls short in many regards, namely that it does not offer the young adults in question a pathway to citizenship and recipients would have to agree to not receive any government benefits, including student loans. It is not expected to pass in the current lame duck session (Washington Post). Furthermore, I personally have low expectations of the Democrats compromising on the existing DREAM structure as it is considered so popular that at least one state (Maryland) passed their own version of the Act in the recent election.
Today, the Republican-controlled house passed the STEM Jobs Act. This act would switch the permanent residency visa lottery to a near-automatic granting of visas towards immigrants working on advanced degrees in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). This bill is not generally supported by Democrats because it gets rid of the Diversity Visa Program and, as Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D – Cal.) observed, “…the bill would eventually result in fewer visas issued because far fewer than 50,000 degrees are given every year to foreigners in eligible STEM fields…” (NPR). The STEM Jobs Act is a restrictionist bill posed as immigration reform and, like the ACHIEVE act, does not actually bring the two parties closer to agreement on immigration reform.
I suspect that the next two years will be much the same as the previous two years, with only token immigration reform measures passing, if at all. The Republican party will increase the prominence of their Hispanic politicians, and they will spin any Democratic opposition as “not wanting to solve the immigration problem” (Rep. Labrador, R – Iowa). Because the GOP is stuck between changing with the times on many issues, including immigration, for the survival of the party – or catering to a base that supported the racial profiling of S.B. 1070 and its effective incorporation into this year’s losing platform. Actual immigration reform cannot happen until the GOP reforms its identity after its loss and both parties are ready to meet at the negotiating table. We are not there yet, and I don’t suspect that the new Republican interest in Hispanics and immigration reform actually herald the path to a reform of our immigration laws.
 Hispanics make up 16% of the population of the United States and are the fastest growing minority group. As I noted in my previous post on the issue, it is estimated that in less than forty years this percentage will reach 40%. The actual electorate could be influenced by many things, including age and voter turn out.