Posted by Brad @ 3:03 pm on May 27th 2007

The Demographic Majority

I’ve cited this a lot, but Ross Douthat, now at the Atlantic, adds some further thought specific to the Bush administrations immigration plan and how that’ll likely play out for the Republican party’s electoral coalition in the coming years, demographically.

Now, the immigration plan is either right or wrong on its own merits, that needs to be stated first. But as election-watchers, it’s certainly not off-limits to note what the immigration deal’s likely electoral impact will be.

There has been a lot of talks as the 90s drew to a close of the Republican majority becoming a permanent majority. To do this, of course, it would require that the GOP not just appeal to married middle class suburban white people, but to begin to branch out to minorities. The Republican party made great inroads with African Americans and Latinos in the 90s, and today enjoy the most multi-racial administration in American history.

And yet, their inroads among Latino populations has come less as a result of Republican policies appealing to some inherently pro-Hispanic core of those voters, and more simply because Hispanics are assimilating and becoming, themselves, married middle class suburban people. One ironic reason why this is happening in huge numbers is because of the amnesty deal that Reagan pushed through in the 80s. Those people, legalized, have managed to become good hardworking Americans, and 20 years later, are now such good hardworking Americans that they’re starting to vote Republican.

And yet, the GOP has managed to set itself up for a potential triangulation wherein they get the worst of all worlds, demographically speaking.

For one, the current amnesty deal (whether it goes through or not; events are unfolding on that front too fast and furious for me to keep up with), would give de facto legalization for 2 million plus illegal migrant works–in other words, it will, in one fell swoop, add about 2 million reliably Democratic voters to the rolls. I’m actually grateful that this isn’t a point explicitly made by more Republican opponents as a reason to kill the deal (as it is in the case of giving representation to Washington, D.C. residents, where right or wrong seems to be besides the point). But, it’s worth noting, that if the deal goes through, a pretty significant glut of Democratic voters are going to suddenly materialize, particularly in places like California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas.

It’s also worth noting that amnesty deals are not all that popular, certainly not as popular as many right-wing talk radio types peg it, among CURRENT Hispanic populations in the United States. I read an article recently about L.A. mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa who noted that he had about an 85% approval rating among Hispanics until he started showing up at illegal immigration rallies, at which point it started dropping by nearly 20 points. Not only do you add a bunch of new Democratic voters, but of the current Hispanic voting population, the percentage of those that are currently part of the Republican base will probably dwindle, making the whole thing a double punch.

But the final, and the real killer, is that even as the Republican party is pushing through the amnesty deal, the OPPOSITION to it from within the Republican ranks is so vocal that it DOES turn off Hispanics AS A WHOLE, because, in lumping them all together, you piss them all off, all together. If there’s one thing that unites El Salvadoran housekeepers, Mexican migrant farmers, Cuban stock brokers, Puerto Rican store clerks, and everyone in between, it’s a massive swell of seemingly anti-Hispanic sounding sweeping rhetoric. Most Hispanics are pretty reasonable when it comes to immigration, actually. They are not the single-minded “teach school in Spanish and give health care and voting rights to every illegal immigrant” group that some portray them as. And yet, the portrayal itself, or even the perception that such a portrayal is being made, will turn them off pretty fast. The real killer for the GOP is the picture of Hispanics not as perhaps a natural Republican-voting America ethnic group, but as some kind of liberal bugaboo. And, in so doing, it becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If the Bush immigration deal goes through with significant and vocal Republican opposition and blowback, it doesn’t seem at all impossible that the Republican party manages to swing the Democratic party another 5 million national votes, and that ain’t hay.

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