It is conventional wisdom right now that the Republican Party really needs to pass immigration reform in the next year or two. Mitt Romney struggled with Hispanics and as they become a larger part of the electorate, the Republican Party will struggle to stay competitive if it loses a significant portion of their vote. That’s why the RNC’s autopsy of last year’s election advised passing comprehensive immigration reform:
[W]e must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.
This is a widely held view amongst political pundits and policymakers alike. Democrats have put pressure on Republicans to pass an immigration bill, because they believe the worst-case scenario is a political victory where the House kills the legislation. It’s a win-win for them. Either they earn a major legislative accomplishment or a political victory.
All of these analyses are based on the fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of immigration reform to Hispanics and the many other reasons that Hispanics are turning away from the GOP. The Republican Party’s extremism is alienating many demographics, but commentators do not propose a single prescription to reverse those trends as they do with Hispanics and immigration. The reasons that so many Americans are becoming more supportive of Democrats are the same reasons that Hispanics are doing so: they agree with the Democratic Party on most issues.
Let’s start with the social ones. Exit polls from last year election found that 66% of Hispanics (including 64% of men) favored legal abortion while 59% said their state should legalize same-sex marriage. A more recent poll found Hispanics favoring same sex marriage by a 55-43 margin and opposing abortion by 52-46. Nevertheless, many pundits blindly assume that Hispanics are social conservatives. That’s clearly not true.
The same poll found that Hispanics rate unemployment, the quality of public schools, the deficit and the cost of college as more important to them than immigration. Nearly two-thirds of Hispanics think the government should invest more to spur economic growth instead of cutting taxes to do so. Fifty eight percent favored universal health care, although they were split on Obamacare.
In line with these findings, a ImpreMedia and Latino Decisions exit poll found that only 12% of Hispanics favor the current Republican policy line of reducing the deficit with spending cuts only. Forty two percent want a combination of both spending cuts and tax increases while 35% want to reduce the deficit entirely through higher revenues. The same poll found that 61% of Hispanics wanted to leave Obamacare in place, compared to 25% who wanted to repeal it.
Hispanics are not natural Republicans. Their opinions are very much in line with the rest of the nation, which mean that they currently favor liberal positions. The Republican Party’s problem with Hispanics is the same one that it has with other demographics. It’s taken extreme positions on a number of issues and refused to compromise. Passing immigration reform would earn the GOP more support from Hispanics, but so would supporting gay marriage and passing an infrastructure bill. The Republican Party can win back Hispanic voters in other ways without passing immigration reform, but it requires the party to compromise, something it has proven unable to do.
Luckily for the GOP, they have a perfect example of a candidate who has done so in Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor won reelection last night by 21 points, but most importantly he split the Hispanic vote in a very blue state. Josh Barro and Brett Logiurato reported from Union City, which is 85% Hispanic but has quite a few Christie supporters:
When we asked Union City rally attendees why they back Christie, they rarely cited policy specifics. Instead, four consistent themes emerged: They like and trust him personally; they appreciate his ability to forge bipartisan compromises; they think he did a good job handling Hurricane Sandy recovery; and they feel he has been available and treated their local governments well.
Christie worked across the aisle with the Democratic state legislature, responded impressively to Hurricane Sandy and is personally well-liked. This is a model for how national Republicans can win back Hispanics and voters of all ethnicities. It doesn’t require passing immigration reform. It does require actively trying to help people, instead of only shutting down the president’s agenda. As the Republican governor of a blue state, Christie has shown he is capable of doing that. He could win the presidency even if congressional Republicans doesn’t pass immigration reform. The Republican Party just has to give him a chance.