Why immigration reform isn’t the answer to Republicans’ demographic woes

April 26

We reported on Tuesday about the major demographic problem facing Republicans. So, how can the GOP start winning larger shares of non-white voters? Reforming the immigration system might not be the answer.

Why not? Because reforming the nation's immigration laws could very well create a whole bunch of  new Democrats, including in some key swing states. Let's break it down.

The rise in the Hispanic population in the United States is problematic for the GOP, but so far it's been quite slow. In 2004, Hispanics made up 6 percent of all voters. That ticked up to 7 percent in 2008 and 8 percent in 2012. Census voting and registration data shows that Hispanics make up significant chunks of the population in some key states, but they are not yet a well-organized voting bloc. This chart shows the states with largest share of Hispanics (including non-citizens). In each state Hispanic voter turnout lags their share of the citizen population, demonstrating the political potential they could have if they were better mobilized.


If many of the Hispanic non-citizens across the country became voting eligible citizens through immigration reform, some of those states become much more interesting politically. Take Texas, where only 22 percent of voters were Hispanic, but they make up 37 percent of the total population of the state. The pattern is similar in Arizona, where 17 percent of voters were Hispanic but they accounted for 29 percent of the total population.

Here's the Hispanic population within each of those states. Across the board, the percent of Hispanics who turned out to vote in 2012 fell short of their voter registration levels. Voter registration among Hispanics in Texas reaches 55 percent, but only 39 percent actually voted in 2012. It’s nearly as bad in Arizona, where 52 percent of the Hispanic citizen population is registered but just four in 10 actually voted.


Simply rejecting immigration reforms aimed at a path to citizenship carry big political risks as well, including the possibility of reducing Republicans' already-weak standing with the Hispanic voters (and future voters).

The takeaway? Hispanic citizens' lower turnout and registration rates have so far limited their political impact. But if the significant share of Hispanic non-citizens gain a path to citizenship and actually start voting, the electoral map could change much more quickly than what the slowing changing demographics of the country suggest. And that would be a bad thing for Republicans.

Scott Clement contributed to this report. 

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