What Will the 2012 Electorate Look Like?
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New polling released by Washington Post/ABC News shows that while Americans remain frustrated with the status quo on immigration, they don’t think Mitt Romney would do a better job on the issue than Barack Obama. The poll also shows that the general public is animated by issues other than immigration—something we’ve been pointing out for months—with two glaring exceptions: the small group of hardliners who dislike immigrants, and the growing group of Latino and naturalized citizen voters who have a personal connection to the policy debate. State-by-state analysis of the potential composition of the electorate from leading demographic and polling experts Ruy Teixeira and William Frey shows that the share of the electorate that cares deeply about pro-immigrant policies is significant and growing.
According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:
The Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that Americans are frustrated with the fact that the immigration system remains broken, but it’s not their top issue. Add that to the fact that most voters actually support real immigration solutions over empty rhetoric, and you can see that the anti-immigrant voting bloc has been punching above its weight for the last few election cycles. They’ve scared Republicans into opposing common sense immigration reforms, and jeopardized the Party’s future in the process.
The Post/ABC poll found that while President Obama has a net disapproval rating on immigration—38-50% among all voters—they don’t necessarily think Mitt Romney would do a better job. When it comes to who voters “trust” to handle the issue, Obama and Romney are tied at 45%. The fact that Mitt Romney fares no better or worse than Obama on the issue is significant. We view this poll as evidence for the public’s frustration with the immigration status quo and Washington’s stalemate over fixing immigration, rather than an indictment of specific policies implemented by the Administration, or evidence of rising anti-immigrant sentiment. On the substance, all major polls show Americans strongly in favor of common sense solutions like comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act, and the President’s recent decision to protect DREAM-eligible young people from deportation.
Still, the Post/ABC poll shows that immigration is not a major voting issue for most Americans: by a 51-47% margin, respondents said immigration was “somewhat important” or “less important” voting issue rather than “extremely” or “very important” (the lowest share of importance among the six issues the poll tested). As this poll finds, and America’s Voice has highlighted in the past, immigration is not mobilizing issue for most of the electorate, with the exception of an increasingly small sliver of the electorate comprised of anti-immigrant voters and a much larger group of Latino and naturalized citizen voters. And as recent Latino Decisions polling in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Virginia makes clear, the Latino electorate is strongly in favor of Obama over Romney, and much more enthusiastic about the 2012 elections since the President made his bold move to protect DREAMers from deportation.
That is why the potential composition of the 2012 electorate—and the elections to come—is so important. Teixeria and Frey write in their analysis, posted on The New Republic website:
Minorities, 80 percent of whom supported Obama in 2008, have increased their share of eligible voters across the time period by around 3 percentage points. (About three-fifths of this is from Hispanics, most of the rest from Asians and those of ‘other race’).
In 2012 swing states with a potentially large concentration of Latino voters, their analysis finds that the “minority share of eligible voters” increased by 9 points in Nevada compared to 2008, by four points in Florida, and by three points in Colorado, “almost entirely from Hispanics.” As the authors conclude:
Of course, there’s no guarantee that these shifts in the eligible voter pool will be fully realized among actual voters in November. But the potential is clearly there. And the Obama campaign, with its emphasis on voter mobilization and a strong ground game, is well-positioned to take advantage of that.
Mitt Romney made a dangerous decision to embrace the hardliners in the primary, instead of having a broader conversation on immigration that could appeal to more groups in the general election. He overestimated the power this issue has with non-Latinos, and underestimated its importance to the fastest-growing group of new voters. For immigrants and Latinos, immigration reform isn’t a ‘policy’ issue—it’s personal. For everyone else, they just want it solved.