What Arizona Teaches Us About Politics of Illegal Immigration

If you only listened to the media and Republican consultants during the days following the election, you would hear the following erroneous premises about the Hispanic vote and the issue of illegal immigration.


1)      Our opposition to the circuitous cycle of amnesty and open borders is the sole reason why we are losing the Hispanic vote.

2)      Immediate and unconditional support for illegal immigrants will win us back those votes.

3)      An aggressive campaign for their vote on social issues will not help win them over.

4)      We would somehow be able to get to the left of Democrats on the issue without encouraging a bidding war (Democrats: “We’ll allow for chain migration of all your relatives.”)

Aside for the fact that these assertions are far from being inviolable truths, there is one other point that has been overlooked throughout the entire post-election debate: the other 90% of the electorate.

Obama ran a wedge-issue campaign in which he used illegal immigration to galvanize Hispanic turnout at the ballot box.  But wedge issues cut both ways.  While Obama can use them to make gains with some demographics, he should lose at least as many with the rest of the electorate.  However, Republicans never rubbed the issue back in his nose.  Hence, Obama enjoyed the gain of employing wedge issue attacks without incurring the loss.  That is…except for one state.

Do you know what percentage of the electorate in Colorado was Hispanic?  14%.

Virginia? 5%.

Ohio? 3%.

Florida?  17%.

What about Arizona?  18% – up from 16% four years ago!


If there’s any state where illegal immigration should be sinking Republicans it’s Arizona.  If you believe the media, Jan Brewer cooks Hispanic kids for dinner, and SB 1070 forces police to randomly lock up any remotely Hispanic looking pedestrian.  Yet, Obama has thus far underperformed John Kerry’s showing in the state, even though Kerry ran against George Bush, the champion of GOP Hispanic performance.  In fact, Romney’s 10+ point victory in the state is the strongest showing since George H. W. Bush’s 1988 landslide.

So Arizona had a larger share of Hispanic voters than Colorado or Florida, and almost as much as Nevada (19%), yet Romney overperformed.  Why?

Well, he received 25% of the Hispanic vote, only slightly below his national average.  Incidentally, Jan Brewer received 28% in 2010.  But here’s the kicker:  Romney blew out the white vote by a whopping 34 points!  There wasn’t even much of a gender gap; he won the white women vote by 30.  He won 12% of Democrats and 51% of Independents, who comprise a larger share of the electorate than either party.

In 2008, McCain carried the white vote by 19 points, 15 points less than Romney.  It’s clear what’s going on in Arizona.  This is one state where Republicans fought back against the one-sided push for amnesty.  They articulated the problems with our porous border and the burden on our safety net and public funds.  So while Obama’s race-baiting has netted him some extra votes with Hispanics, he got crushed with white voters.  That’s why Axelrod’s early bragging about going after Arizona died down so quickly, despite the increase in Hispanic turnout.


As RCP’s inimitable analyst, Sean Trende, points out in his book, The Lost Majority, it’s almost impossible to obtain permanent majority coalitions.  In order to pursue certain voters, politicians inevitably overplay their hand and throw existing voters out of the party.  There has clearly been a massive white flight from the Democrat Party in Arizona as a result of Obama’s hard-left stance on illegal immigration.  That flight is actually taking place across the country.  We need to find a way to permanently pick up those voters, while finding other ways to reach out to Hispanics (Obama’s war on the Catholic Church).  We also need to work on ground game.  There are a lot of things we need to do, but making Lindsey Graham the face of the Republican Party is not one of them.

Cross-posted from The Madison Project


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