Immigration’s Impact on Republican Political Prospects, 1980 to 2012

James G. Gimpel, Center for Immigration Studies, April 16, 2014

Summary

This Backgrounder examines the partisan political implications of large-scale immigration. A comparison of voting patterns in presidential elections across counties over the last three decades shows that mass immigration has caused a steady drop in presidential Republican vote shares, particularly in the nation’s largest counties. Each one percentage-point increase in the immigrant share of a large county’s population reduces the Republican share of the two-party vote by nearly 0.6 percentage points on average.

Three key conclusions emerge from this analysis:

  • First, the enormous flow of legal immigrants in to the country–29.5 million 1980 to 2012–has remade and continues to remake the nation’s electorate in favor of the Democratic Party.
  • Second, the partisan impact of immigration is relatively uniform throughout the country–from California to Texas to Florida–even though local Republican parties have taken different positions on illegal immigration. The decline does not seem to vary with the local Republican Party’s position on illegal immigration.
  • Third, if legal immigration levels remain at the current levels of over one million a year, it will likely continue to undermine Republicans’ political prospects moving forward. Further, if the substantial increases in legal immigration in Senate’s Gang of Eight bill (S.744) were to become law it would accelerate this process. Conversely, lowering the level of legal immigration in the future would help stem the decline in the Republican vote.

Three related findings help explain why immigration reduces the Republican vote:

  • Immigrants, particularly Hispanics and Asians, have policy preferences when it comes to the size and scope of government that are more closely aligned with progressives than with conservatives. As a result, survey data show a two-to-one party identification with Democrats over Republicans.
  • By increasing income inequality and adding to the low-income population (e.g. immigrants and their minor children account for one-fourth of those in poverty and one-third of the uninsured) immigration likely makes all voters more supportive of redistributive policies championed by Democrats to support disadvantaged populations.
  • There is evidence that immigration may cause more Republican-oriented voters to move away from areas of high immigrant settlement leaving behind a more lopsided Democrat majority.

[Editor’s Note: The full report is available here.]

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