As it became apparent that Barack Obama was going to defeat Mitt Romney on election night in November of 2012, immediately political commentators said that the Republican Party had to make amends with Latino voters, since that emerging demographic gave only 27 percent of their support to the GOP candidate. An "autopsy" conducted a few months later by the Republican National Committee only confirmed that analysis, and spurred a call to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
The U.S. Senate, led in part by Republicans Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, passed such a bill nearly a year ago. But House Republicans continue to dither on the subject.
Two new polls released this week that were conducted by GOP pollsters confirm that passing such legislation would only enhance the party's reputation in Hispanic voters minds — yet resistance in some pockets of the party has never been greater, and may in fact be emboldened by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning primary loss earlier this week — in which immigration was supposed to have been a major factor.
"It’s simply a matter of finding that sweet spot that can unite the majority of the (GOP) caucus," said longtime Republican pollster Whit Ayres, speaking in a conference call with reporters. "It's a challenging endeavor because it's a challenging time facing the country, but I remain hopeful."
Ayres talked about two new polls released this week — one among Latino voters themselves regarding their feelings about the issue and their support for the Democrats and Republicans, and a more general survey of the nation that skewed towards Republican voters. The latter survey indicated that while a majority of Americans don't want to offer "amnesty" to the estimated 13 million undocumented citizens in this country, that same majority doesn't believe the Senate's comprehensive plan passed a year ago actually contains any amnesty in it.
So again, what gives?
"There is an intense minority — 20-25 percent of the Republican Party — who adamantly are opposed to any form of immigration reform beyond strengthening the border," Ayes said. "They are very loud and very intense, but they do not reflect the majority." He said that's why South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham was able to trounce his opponents in his Republican Party primary earlier this week, he added.
The results of the general public survey show that expected reform should be "good electoral politics for Republicans," according to Ayres. And the poll finds that most Americans don’t believe deportation is a viable policy with respect to undocumented immigrants. In fact, there is an overwhelming consensus in support of some kind of legalization for undocumented immigrants (either “legal status” or “citizenship”).
Ayes also conducted a poll exclusively of 800 Hispanic registered voters, in both English and Spanish. In it, he found that 49 percent blame Republicans in Congress for the failure to pass immigration reform thus far, while 11 percent blame Democrats in Congress and 11 percent blame President Obama.
The survey also says about one-quarter of Hispanics will support Republicans regardless of whether they pass immigration reform, and about one-half will support Democrats regardless of what Republicans do. But passing immigration reform gives Republicans an opportunity to gain the support of the remaining quarter, Ayres says.
Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, more than 48,000 immigrant children traveling on their own have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley, overwhelming the Border Patrol in Texas in recent weeks. That's led to extensive coverage on the issue, mostly on conservative media organizations like Fox News and the Drudge Report.