The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why the GOP might not need immigration reform any time soon

After Mitt Romney lost in 2012, the Republican Party crafted a plan of action intended to bolster its showing among constituencies that backed the reelection of the president. Among the prescriptions was improved outreach to the nation's Latinos, which was already at the heart of a new push for reforms to the immigration system. Then, as you know, the effort stalled, and with Rep. Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) primary election loss, came to an even-more-sudden halt.

At Bloomberg, Francis Wilkinson writes, with an eye toward 2016, that the 2014 elections will cement the Republican Party's relationship with white voters. Wilkinson quotes an immigration advocate, who says that the party will "face a future defined by an anti-Latino and anti-immigrant brand and the rapid and relentless growth of Latino, Asian-American and immigrant voters."

This is the common refrain of immigration advocates and other observers: The GOP is dooming its future by ignoring the constituents who will comprise it.

There's plenty of reason to be skeptical.

As we've written before, 2014 isn't likely to amount to a day of reckoning for Republicans, since Latinos turn out less than other groups in both midterms and presidential races. And given the likely voter pool this year and in the party's primaries -- older, whiter -- there probably isn't much need for the party to shift its position on immigration before the 2016 general election.

But it might not need to, even then. Last week we looked at the upcoming surge in older voters. Today, with an eye toward figuring out how that might affect future elections, we looked at the two most recent elections.

Here's the end result, which is explained in detail below.

This is really two graphs: a plot of the change in support for Obama versus the change in the median age in the county and the change in support for Obama versus the change in the percentage of Hispanics in the county. We used Census data for this, from 2008 and 2012. Not every county is represented because Census data isn't refined that frequently for smaller counties.

Toward the top of the graph are bigger positive changes in the demographic trait -- a bigger jump in the Hispanic population density (green) or a bigger jump in median age (yellow). From left to right, change in support for Obama is indicated, but relative to the national average. (This is a metric we've used before that helps correct for shifts in the overall move away from Obama between the two elections.)

The lines are the trends. As counties got older, they were slightly less likely to support Obama. As they saw increased populations of Hispanics, they were slightly more likely to. But the strength of those correlations varies greatly. There's a very weak correlation between areas with increased Hispanic populations voting more for Obama and a very strong correlation (an r-squared value of .88, for those who care) between an increase in median age and less support for the president. And again: that's relative to the rest of the country, so it isn't simply a reflection of changing support for the president.

Perhaps this is a function of lower turnout rates among Hispanics, or perhaps it derives from there being fewer eligible voters in those areas. Using Census data, this is how the number of eligible voters and the percentage of the population that's Hispanic relates in every House district. The higher the Hispanic population, the lower the percentage of residents that are eligible to vote, according to the Pew Research Center.

The story, in short: Upcoming elections will see larger numbers of older voters, and there was a correlation between seeing more older Americans and voting more heavily against Obama. The older voting population will largely reflect the more diverse population over the long term, but over the short to (perhaps) medium term, it almost certainly won't.

Perhaps, then, the failure to pass immigration reform won't put the GOP at much of a disadvantage. The party probably won't see a surge in Hispanic voters in 2016, but the number of older white voters could very well offset that imbalance.