Let us say you wanted to learn how someone was going to vote in an election but could not ask them what party they supported — if you had only two questions for this person, what would they be? I would choose these two: What Party did your parents consider themselves to be?; and, Who did you vote for in your first Presidential Election? The reason is that these are the two strongest predictors of Party Identification — Which party your parents generally supported and who you first voted for in your early years as an adult are likely to determine how you will vote in the future.
Now say you are a Republican candidate for federal office, you would probably focus on a certain aspect of recent elections. Not only did Barack Obama get 71% of the Hispanic vote, but they made up 10% of the electorate — growing from 8% in 2004 and 9% in 2010 — notice a trend? An analysis of the 2012 election shows even stronger growth of the Hispanic vote in critical states like Arizona, Florida, Colorado, and Nevada. In the case of Colorado, Obama received 75% of the Hispanic vote. These voters are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates in future elections than they are to switch to a Republican candidate — their party ID may be hard-wired, especially when it comes to new voters.
Clearly, Republicans who are actually concerned about winning elections see the demographic problem — a higher percentage of Hispanic voters in critical states means that the GOP needs a higher percentage of the Hispanic vote to support them in elections. They don’t need a majority, necessarily, but losing three-quarters of them to the Democrats is electoral doom — now for the Presidency and soon in more and more congressional elections.
The solution at the moment appears to be the embracing of some sort of Immigration Reform by the Republican leadership. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are on board with the plan to make sure that addressing the issue of undocumented inhabitants is NOT a political issue in 2016. The thought must be that if they pass immigration reform, Hispanics will reconsider their current loyalty to the Democrats. However, the details will be important to them — especially the way reform addresses the path to citizenship.
Republicans are wary of creating all of these new American citizens, but not for the reasons they state, such concerns about rewarding illegal behavior. Rather it is in the voting demographics. When these people become citizens, who will be getting the credit for their newly-minted status as Americans? Not the Republicans, who had to be dragged to the negotiating table, but President Obama and the Democrats who campaigned and addressed this issue important to many Hispanic voters.
The Republican strategists understand what this means — as these people go through the system and become citizens, they are more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. With an estimated 11 million undocumented inhabitants in the U.S., if all of them were able to eventually become citizens, the odds are they would reward Democrats when they got their first chance to vote. And since the party a person first pulls the lever for is likely to continue to get their support for years to come, Republican strategists are having nightmares about multitudes of new Democratic voters being added to precincts all across the country.
So that is the Catch-22 for the Republicans — If they address comprehensive immigration reform they could be allowing Democrats to increase their support by millions over the next several elections. If they don’t address this issue, then the Democrats can hammer them with it in 2016 and beyond. Not an easy political choice to make.
The guess here is that Republicans will support a reform package, but while it will allow the legalization of the undocumented workers, the path to citizenship will be long, difficult and possibly out of reach. The GOP will be willing to let these inhabitants work, pay taxes, add to the economy, and contribute to the growth of America without fear of arrest or deportation. They’ll just make sure they can’t vote.