Why Immigration Will Probably Cost the Republicans the 2016 Presidential Election

Posted on: March 27th, 2015
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Stuart Anderson has a fascinating interview with Republican pollster Whit Ayres in the latest issue of Forbes. In Ayres’ new book 2016 and Beyond: How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America, he points out that non-white voters’ percentage of the electorate has been growing 3% each presidential election cycle and that if non-whites vote for the Democrat with the same percentage as in 2012, the Republican will need to improve to 65% of the white vote versus the 59% Mitt Romney got in 2012. That’s only been achieved once – by Ronald Reagan in the landslide 1984 election.

Ayres sees immigration as the main reason Republicans have done poorly with Asian and Hispanic voters. Asian voters are perhaps the bigger surprise. President Obama got 70% of the Asian vote which is about the same as Hispanics. Asian voters are reacting to the anti-immigration rhetoric of the GOP as much as their Hispanic counterparts even though in 1996, Bob Dole managed to win a majority of their votes. The Asian percentage of the American population is growing even faster than the Hispanic demographic.

This is not news to many of the leaders in the Republican Party who see the writing on the wall. Many, like Karl Rove and Lindsay Graham, have been loudly sounding alarm bells. They know that the math just doesn’t add up for winning presidential elections unless the Democrats nominate a horrible candidate and the Republicans nominate someone who is outstanding in every way.

And it’s not just the White House that is a problem. While the party holds the Senate now, keeping it past 2016 will get tougher and tougher. The Democrats are only defending 10 of 34 Senate seats up in 2016, almost the reverse of 2014. And Democrats do much better in presidential election years when voter turnout is considerably higher. Combine that with the changing demographics in several states and some very conservative Republicans up in decidedly blue to purple states and you can see this being the last year for a while where Republicans have the majority.

In 2020, a presidential election year, House district lines will be redrawn after the census is completed. State legislatures and governors draw the US House of Representatives district lines and if Republicans fare poorly, the Democrats will be in the driver’s seat for reversing the gerrymandering that has given the Republicans the House Majority despite actually getting fewer votes nationally than Democrats. 2010 was a perfect storm for Democrats – a low turnout non-presidential election turnout combined with a President lagging in the polls helped Republicans flip state legislatures around the country. 2020 could be a very different story given the likely Democratic-leaning electorate that will turn out that year.

Even if GOP voters nominate a candidate in 2016 with a decent position on immigration, that’s not going to be enough (John McCain would surely agree). The Republican Party’s brand is being shaped by its majorities in Congress and it is the Republican majority in Congress that is going to need to convince Hispanic and Asian voters that it has changed its tune on immigration. It’s not looking too good right now – worse, in fact than after the disastrous 2012 election.  And that adds up to a simple truth – the Republicans are running out of time.