Seven out of 10 Latino voters nationwide say it’s “very” or “extremely” important for Congress to pass an immigration reform bill this year, according to a new poll released Tuesday with a summer window of opportunity closing by Aug. 1.
If Congress doesn’t act, Latinos will mostly blame Republicans and punish them in the 2014 elections, the survey showed.
For example, if House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, doesn’t allow a vote on immigration reform, 74 percent of Latino voters said they would be “much or somewhat less” likely to favor Republicans. But if Boehner allows a vote, 53 percent of those same Latino voters said they would feel “much more or somewhat more” favorable toward Republicans.
“This issue could be a mobilizing issue for Latino voters,” said Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, which conducted the survey. “A sizable chunk of the Latino community is willing to give the Republican Party a chance. However, if Republicans do not allow a vote they can still drive more Latino voters away.”
In Nevada, the fate of immigration reform could impact Republican U.S. Reps Mark Amodei and Joe Heck — both of whom favor fixing the immigration system and have grown frustrated with GOP leadership for not holding a vote yet. They’re facing pressure from immigration advocates, who plan Wednesday to protest outside their Las Vegas offices.
Heck’s bid for a third term could hinge on Hispanic voters since his 3rd Congressional District is more than 15 percent Latino by population, and he’s facing Democratic opposition in the fall from Erin Bilbray, who is backed by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Heck faces no GOP opposition in the June 10 primary and will face Bilbray in the Nov. 4 general election.
Overall, Hispanics account for nearly 30 percent of Nevada’s population and made up 17 percent of the electorate in 2010 and 2012. Reid has said he wouldn’t have won re-election in 2010 without the strong Hispanic support he received compared to his GOP foe, Sharron Angle, a tea party member who didn’t back immigration reform.
Congressional action on immigration could not only affect the 2014 election, but will likely impact the 2016 presidential race as the nation’s Hispanic population grows and Republicans try to reach out to Latinos, said Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of America’s Voice, which advocates for immigration reform.
“The future of the (Republican) Party is at stake,” Sharry said. “The GOP brand will go from tarnished to finished with Latino voters” if Congress doesn’t act on immigration reform, he said, citing the poll findings as evidence.
The pollsters noted that nearly half of the Latinos they polled, or 49 percent, said they had voted for a Republican some time in the past. In fact, former President George W. Bush twice won the presidency in part because he won a good share of the Latino vote: 35 percent in 2000 and 43 percent in 2004. He also attempted to get Congress to approve immigration reform, but was blocked by the conservative wing of the party, much like the main obstacle today.
Both Democrats and Republicans who back immigration reform say such a measure would pass the House if Boehner put it up for a vote. Republicans such as Heck and Amodei have problems with the Senate bill, but have said they would vote for a package of bills that improved U.S. border security as well as reformed the immigration system, including providing a path to U.S. citizenship one day for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
If Congress doesn’t act by Aug. 1, President Barack Obama plans to take executive action, according to Reid. The White House is holding off on publicly releasing a review of the administration’s deportation policies, which have come under attack by advocates because Obama has deported more than 2 million undocumented immigrants. Obama could decide to halt or slow deportations until Congress takes action on immigration, although the next president could reverse him.
The Latino Decisions survey did not ask a question about the president’s deportation policies. But both Barreto said Sharry said there’s plenty of evidence Hispanics are unhappy with the Democrats and Obama, too.
Obama’s approval rating on immigration policy is 54 percent, according to the poll, with 42 percent disapproving. House Democrats had a 49-43 approval/disapproval rating. House Republicans had a 25-68 approval/disapproval rating.
“Democrats aren’t hitting it out of the ballpark,” Barreto said. “Latinos are frustrated on all fronts.”
Added Sharry, “I don’t think Democrats can take Latino voters for granted. … The Republican brand is in serious jeopardy. And the Democrats haven’t fulfilled their potential.”
The survey of 800 Latino registered voters nationwide was conducted May 16-23. Questioners spoke English and Spanish and used land lines and cellphones of voters as well as an online sample. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.