The 2014 House Elections and Comprehensive Immigration Reform Revisited

by David F. Damore and Thomas Schaller on April 25, 2014

From the perspective of most Latino voters, the actions of the House Republicans have made a bad situation worse. House Republicans will bear the blunt of the blame if comprehensive immigration reform does not pass.

Their dithering also creates an opportunity for President Obama to take administrative action and in so doing, allow the Democrats to claim credit for responding to the single most important issue facing the Latino community. Moreover, by only allowing votes on enforcement related legislation, the most vulnerable House Republican incumbents will be running for reelection with a record of immigration votes that are antithetical to the policies favored by the vast majority of Latino voters.

Still, how these dynamics play out next November remains an open question. Indeed, last summer we noted that although the Latino influence districts that we identified provide contexts where immigration politics could be deterministic, for immigration to matter, a number of factors have to align.

First, Latino voters have to turnout next November. To be sure, Latino turnout lags behind many other demographic groups. However, the relative youth of the Latino population and its growth means that the size of the Latino population will be larger in every one of the districts that we identified (using 2010 US Census data) and there may be even more districts where Latinos are positioned to effect outcomes come November. Add to this the fact that the GOP’s immigration tactics are alienating other fast growing voting blocs such as Asian Americans and one point is clear: the 2014 midterm election will have the largest share of minority and non-white voters in the country’s history and these voters are overwhelmingly opposed to the Republican’s immigration politics and policies.

Second, while voter turnout in a midterm election declines significantly (typically, 60% turnout in presidential election as compared to 40% in midterms), it declines for all voters. As a consequence, marginal decreases of one group relative to other groups can have outsized effects. The last midterm election offers anecdotal evidence consistent with this point. In Nevada, the Latino share of the 2010 electorate was the same as it was during the 2008 presidential election (it increased an additional three percentage points in 2012). The anti-immigration rhetoric and campaign tactics of Sharron Angle, the Republican US Senate candidate, mobilized many of these voters with the end result being 90% of Latinos voted for Harry Reid. It is also worth noting that many prognosticators and pundits predicted Reid’s defeat largely because they expected Latinos to stay home.

Third and perhaps most importantly, the competitiveness of a race in November is shaped by the quality of the opposition that emerges in the spring and summer. The failure of the out-party to recruit and fund a challenger who is capable of running a strong campaign means that incumbents who might otherwise look vulnerable may easily win. Conversely, the emergence of a surprisingly strong challenger or the retirement of an incumbent can put districts that appeared safe for one party into play in the fall. Indeed, in the last few months two California House Republicans (Gary Miller and Buck McKeon) representing tier one and tier two districts announced their retirements, further improving the Democrats’ chances in those districts.

The bottom line when it comes to House elections, where incumbent reelection rates typically exceed 90%, is that you “can’t beat somebody with nobody.” To this end, in the coming months as primary season wanes and the fall campaigns begin in earnest, Latino Decisions will be providing regular updates on the state of play in the Democratically and Republican held tier one and tier two districts with a specific focus on assessing the quality of the challengers and these candidates’ access to resources so that you know which races will matter in November. So stay tuned, much more to come.

David Damore is a senior analyst at Latino Decisions, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and a Senior Nonresident Fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program.

Thomas Schaller is political director at Latino Decisions, a political columnist for the Baltimore Sun, and professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

This piece first appeared in Latino Decisions

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