As Congress works toward the final stages of an immigration reform plan, a new issue brief from the Center for American Progress explores how immigration and the growing Latino population could impact the future political landscape in key states.
Immigration issues among Latino voters were crucial in swinging the 2012 presidential election.
And the rapid growth and voting power of the Latino population also ensured key swing states such as Florida, Colorado and Nevada voted for the current Democratic president, according to the brief.
Key states such as Arizona and North Carolina are also reaching demographic tipping points that could shift the states reliably blue, said Philip Wolgin, senior policy analyst for immigration at the Center for American Progress.
“These are states that are becoming swing states in a way that I think nobody really envisioned would have happened in the past,” he said.
In Arizona, the margins of victory for Republicans are becoming almost miniscule with the growth of the Latino community, which is currently around 30 percent of the state’s population, Wolgin added.
The case is also similar in North Carolina, he said.
Texas and Georgia are also on demographic and political shifting paths, although they “aren’t quite there yet,” Wolgin said.
“If we continue along the same demographic lines, and if we continue to see immigration being an issue that is very polarized and polarizing, well then these are states that are also going to go blue,” he said.
Other states the Center for American Progress lists as being on the cusp of shifting reliably blue due to demographic changes include Florida, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia.
It’s estimated that by 2043 the United States will be majority minority, meaning there will be no one racial or ethnic group that makes up more than 50 percent of the population.
By 2016, there will be four million new Latino voters across the country, according to the brief.
Whether or not these key states turn blue in the future depends on how immigration reform shakes out and how lawmakers on both sides of the aisle respond politically, the brief noted. Four Republicans and four Democrats in the U.S. Senate are reportedly close to reaching a deal this week on an immigration reform bill that would address legal status and citizenship.
Today, a group of Democrats from the New Democrat Coalition in the House released their own immigration blueprint, while a seperate House group of bipartisan lawmakers is also working on its own legislation.
But Sara McElmurry, communications manager at the Chicago-based Latino Policy Forum, said the notion that the Latino voice is synonymous with immigration is not necessarily true.
“Polls and what we heard in the community around the election last November showed us that both education and the economy were also key issues among Latino voters,” she said. “Just voting on party lines based on immigration reform, I think, oversimplifies the political maturity of the community.”
Since the 2012 presidential election, some prominent conservatives and pundits have “evolved” on the issue of immigration reform like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and talk radio show host Sean Hannity, Wolgin explained.
“You’re really seeing people step up, and I think that’s one of the reasons that mainstream opinion among Republicans has shifted,” Wolgin said.
Wolgin also noted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) reflection on the Republican Party's current predicament when he told the Washington Ideas Forum on November 15 that, “It’s really hard to get people to listen to you on economic growth, on tax rates, on health care, if they think you want to deport their grandmother.”
“The fact that they’re coming out very much in favor of reform and doing something to fix our system, I think that’s a direct result in these changes in demographics,” Wolgin said.
McElmurry said Latinos have been advancing through the GOP rank and file at an impressive rate.
“I don’t know how that might play out in years to come when we look at some of these Latino demographic trends and the way the Latinos are rising up in the Republican Party,” she said. “Certainly it’s an intentional move and a smart move by the GOP.”
If Republicans do immigration reform, Wolgin said, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will get voters, however.
“We certainly can’t speculate on what exactly is going to make people vote for someone,” he said. “We can certainly know, from enough polling, ... what turns people off from a party, and that goes both ways, Democrats and Republicans.”
The brief highlighted California, a state that’s currently majority minority and shifted blue before many others, as an example of how immigration and demographics can play a big role in partisan politics.
In 1994, California’s Proposition 187, a controversial ballot measure that sought to limit services such as public education to illegal immigrants, enlivened Latino voters who ultimately helped push the state Democratic.
Not a single Republican won statewide office after the measure initially passed in 1994 through to the election of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003, according to the brief. The state has also voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992.
Image: AP Photo/The Deseret News, Scott G. Winterton