What the GOP has to Gain – and Lose – ­Among Latinos When it Comes to Immigration Reform

By Matt A. Barreto, Latino Decisions

Recently, there have been a series of high profile endorsements for comprehensive immigration reform from the Republican Party. Immediately after the November 2012 election Bobby Jindal made a plea for more civility and less stupidity on the immigration issue. Before too long, it was the Gang of 8 in the U.S. Senate, which included four prominent Republican Senators who introduced their framework for an immigration bill. Then the RNC released a lengthy report calling for stronger outreach to Latinos, starting by passing an immigration reform bill. And now Tea Party favorite, Senator Rand Paul, has changed his position and is now in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Can Republicans really draw more Latino support if they back a path to citizenship? The answer is unequivocally “Yes.” Or if they fail to support immigration reform with a path to citizenship, they could do even worse than Mitt Romney’s all-time low among Latino voters in 2012.

Even President Obama acknowledged that the Republican Party can make gains with Latino voters if they support this issue. Republican Scott Rigell from Virginia told the AP: “He said that actually implementing immigration reform would actually benefit Republicans more than it would Democrats. Looking at the data, Mr. Obama is right. In a recent poll of Latino registered voters on the topic of immigration reform, we asked a couple of different versions of the question “will Republican support for immigration reform make you more likely to vote Republican.” Here we focus on the possible gains (or losses) Republicans can make by reporting results just among Latinos who said they had voted for Obama in 2012, or just among Latino Republicans.

In a hypothetical election match-up with a Republican candidate who supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, against a Democrat who opposes citizenship and calls it “amnesty,” we find that 61% of Obama voters would actually choose the pro-immigration Republican.

When asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for a Republican candidate in the future if the Republicans take a leadership role in passing comprehensive immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship, we find that 43% of Obama voters say more likely to vote Republican.

When we explain the current bipartisan efforts in the U.S. Senate with four Republicans working alongside four Democrats, and ask if the Republican commitment to the bipartisan plan makes them more or less likely to vote Republican, we find 26% of Obama voters say they are now more inclined to vote GOP.

Finally, when we ask Latinos to consider all elections they have voted in for local, state and federal office, and ask if they have ever voted for a Republican candidate, we find that 41% of Obama voters say yes, hey have voted Republican at some point.

While there are clear opportunities for the GOP to make gains among Democratically-leaning Latinos, there are also pitfalls if they fail to support immigration reform from within their own ranks.  When asked how important it is that Congress passes an immigration reform bill in 2013, 64% of Latino Republicans said “very” or “extremely” important. When given the argument that immigration reform should wait until later and Congress should focus only on the economy now, 69% of Latino Republicans disagreed and said Congress should focus on both immigration reform and the economy right now. Finally, when asked which immigration policy they would prefer, 66% of Latino Republicans said they wanted an immigration plan with a clear pathway to citizenship, and only 32% of Republicans said citizenship should wait until after the border is deemed secure.

The data are clear that Latino Republicans expect to see movement on an immigration bill, with a path to citizenship in 2013.  But if the bill stalls, or House Republicans block the effort or prevent a path to citizenship, can the Republican party actually do worse among Latinos than Mitt Romney did in 2012?  Yes.

When asked if they approve or disapprove of the job Congressional Republicans are currently doing handling immigration policy, 40% of Latino Romney voters said they disapproved (only 46% approved).

When asked if they perceived Republican Party as doing a good job reaching out to Latinos, or if the Party was ignoring Latinos or even being hostile to Latinos, 41% of self-described Republicans said the GOP was “ignoring or being hostile” to Latinos


When asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for Republican candidates, if the GOP blocks immigration reform with a path to citizenship, 33% of Latino Republicans said they would be less likely to support their party.

Finally, when asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for Democratic candidates, if the Democratic party takes a leadership role in passing comprehensive immigration reform, 32% of Latino Republicans said they would be more likely to vote Democrat.

For more analysis from this report, go here. A version of this post previously appeared in the Latino Decisions blog.

Matt A. Barreto is an Associate Professor in political science at the University of Washington, Seattle and the director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (WISER). He is also the director of the annual Washington Poll.