Does GOP Have to Pass Immigration Reform?

By Sean Trende - June 25, 2013

‹‹Previous Page |1 | 2 | 3 | Next Page››

We don’t have exits for the odd-numbered elections before 2009, but we can look at actual vote numbers there and do a bit of deduction (though drawing hard inferences is difficult). There are eight majority-black locales in Virginia. They comprised 5 percent of the electorate in 2001, 4.8 percent in 2005, and 4.2 percent in 2009. Now, Creigh Deeds ran a weak campaign for governor in 2009, and had some serious problems with prominent African-American politicians in the state, including Doug Wilder. Also, the rest of Virginia is growing. Still, I don’t think these numbers are what we’d expect if the surge in black votes we saw in 2008 had real staying power. We might have a better idea after 2013.

Now, just to be clear here, I’m not making the ham-handed argument that blacks voted for Obama because he is black. Blacks voted Democratic long before Barack Obama appeared on the scene, for rational policy preferences. The experience of black Republican candidates demonstrates that African-Americans tend to vote for Democrats, not African-Americans.

At the same time, I think you have to be rather naïve to suggest that the chance to make history in 2008 and (to a lesser extent) in 2012 played no role in black turnout, or that identity politics don’t matter at the margins.

My own expectation, considering all of the above, is that African-American participation probably won’t stay at the 2008/2012 level, but neither will it drop back to somewhere between 9 and 10 percent. This is still a significant change. If African-Americans had comprised 11 percent of the electorate in 2012, and Republicans had won 10 percent of the African-American vote, Obama’s victory margin would have been one point instead of four, even with everything else staying the same.

As a final, intriguing point, it’s worth noting that immigration reform doesn’t play exceptionally well with African-American voters. Majorities voted for Prop 187 and Prop 227 (reducing bilingual classrooms) in California, and some political science research suggested that African-Americans there increasingly identified with the Republican Party in the mid-1990s.

The most recent Pew Poll found that while blacks were more likely than whites to support finding a way for illegal immigrants to stay in the country, 20 percent were still in opposition. In addition, they were more likely than whites to support the imposition of fines prior to naturalization, to support a 10-year waiting period for permanent residency, and to believe that legal status should be granted only after the border is secured. On questions like whether legalization would be a drain on government services or take jobs from United States citizens, blacks looked a lot like whites.

The point here isn’t to suggest that the GOP can win 40 percent of the African-American vote by running against illegal immigration. That would be an absurd argument. The point is just to emphasize the fluid nature of political coalitions. This fight isn’t likely to have a substantial impact on African-American voting, but it is an issue that cuts across traditional racial cleavages and could impact things at the margins, particularly if Republicans run on a more populist economic message in the future.

2. Do Democrats have a floor with whites?

We all know the trend lines that should scare the pants off of Republicans. Here’s the trend line that should scare the pants off of Democrats: It shows the “PVI” of white voters. That is to say, it shows how the white population has voted in each election, relative to the country as a whole. So in a year like 1992, when Bill Clinton got 43 percent of the vote while winning 39 percent of the white vote, we show white voters as -4 percent. This is just a way of controlling for “national effects” like the economy so we can see the underlying trend:

It’s been in long-term decline, and the decline is accelerating; about a point-and-a-half toward Republicans per cycle since 1992. Now you may think this is a function of antipathy toward Barack Obama. But it has been on a similar tangent in Congress as well, also at a rate of about 1.5 points every four years:

This has had a profound effect on the electoral vote, and not necessarily in the Democrats’ favor. People like to focus on shifts in places like Nevada. The state is trendy, multicultural, and who doesn’t love visiting Las Vegas? It used to be a Republican stronghold. But over the past decade, its PVI has done this:

Six electoral votes and two Senate seats are clearly moving toward Democrats. But think of another state, West Virginia. It doesn’t get as much attention. Most people associate it with “Deliverance” (though that story was set in Georgia) and few East Coasters go there (unless they’re skiing or road-tripping from D.C. westward).

But West Virginia has five electoral votes, and elects the same number of senators as Nevada. It has done this:

Other heavily white areas, the Upper Midwest in particular, are seeing a less pronounced version of this shift:

Perhaps we can see this best by looking at PVI shifts from 1988 (the election before the Clinton Coalition really emerged) to 2012. Each gradation of red marks a move toward Republicans (capped at 10 PVI points), while each gradation of blue marks a move toward Democrats (same):

The diversifying parts of the country have shifted toward Democrats, as has the Northeast. But far overlooked is the movement in the heavily white interior. This really does matter: It wasn’t that long ago that states like West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri were places where Democrats could win regularly at the local level, and be competitive at the presidential level.

‹‹Previous Page |1 | 2 | 3 | Next Page››

Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

Boehner: Obama Playing With Matches on Immigration
Caitlin Huey-Burns · November 6, 2014
A Slippery Slope on Immigration
Ruth Marcus · November 19, 2014
End the Game on Immigration Reform
Froma Harrop · November 18, 2014
Boehner's Stall on Immigration
Eugene Robinson · November 18, 2014

Sean Trende

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter