An influx of immigrants has boosted the Democratic Party, and that trend is set to continue. Even in places where Republicans support legalization of illegal immigrants, the party hasn’t been able to stem those changes, according to a study being released Tuesday.
James Gimpel, a professor at the University of Maryland, said in a report being released by the Center for Immigration Studies that many of those in the recent wave of immigrants trail native-born Americans on education and skills and favor a broader scope for government action, which makes them “ideal recruits for the Democratic Party.”
Immigrants also tend to move to urban areas, where they become further imbued with Democratic politics, he said.
“It has been a 30-year thing, and these populations continue to come in with predominantly less education and low skills, which makes them ideal recruits for the Democratic Party,” Mr. Gimpel said in an interview. “In addition, of course, they settle in areas where they’re easily socialized in the Democratic Party.”
The effects have deeply shifted politics, he said. In urban areas, immigration has accounted for an average 6 percent drop in support for Republican candidates, while across all U.S. counties the average is about a 2 percent drop.
The study is being released as Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill heatedly debate the policy and politics of immigration.
COVERAGE: Immigration Reform
After President Obama won re-election in 2012 and collected 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, some Republican political consultants and party leaders said they needed to adjust their stance on immigration to win over those voters.
Other Republicans countered that their party would never be able to outbid Democrats on immigration and wondered whether Hispanics were a winnable bloc of voters for Republicans in the first place.
Mr. Gimpel’s report, which updates previous work for the Center for Immigration Studies, suggests the most recent wave of immigration — and the bigger flow that would follow if Congress adopts legislation such as the bill that cleared the Senate last year — will further boost Democrats’ numbers.
Immigrant rights advocates reject that argument and say Republicans have an opening to reshape politics, particularly with Hispanic voters, whom they describe as an eager, fast-growing voting bloc. But they say Republicans must join efforts to legalize illegal immigrants, which is a threshold issue for many Hispanic voters.
“House Republican inaction on immigration reform will threaten the party’s future, and no amount of obfuscation and illogic can protect them from this fate,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said last week.
Advocates also said the window for Republicans to act is closing and warned that if Mr. Obama uses his executive powers to halt more deportations, in effect granting tentative legal status to more illegal immigrants, it will reinforce Democrats’ ties to Hispanics.
“We have a window between now and the summer to put pressure on Republicans to save their party from the Steve Kings and opponents of legal immigration and immigration reform who have held the House GOP Conference in check on this issue,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, referring to the Republican from Iowa who argues for a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Mr. Gimpel’s research, though, suggests the fight for voters is less about specific policies on immigration and more about economics, demographics and broad views of government power — all areas where immigrants fit the mold of Democratic voters.
“The propensity for immigrants, and especially Latinos, to be swing voters has been greatly exaggerated by wishful-thinking Republican politicians and business-seeking pollsters who refuse to acknowledge the stability of individual party identification,” Mr. Gimpel wrote.
There is little Republicans appear to be able to do about it.
Putting Hispanic Republicans on the ballot isn’t a magic bullet, even when they run against non-Hispanic white Democrats in places such as California.
He said Florida will start to lean Democratic first and Texas will end up as a swing state as early as 2020.
One policy that Mr. Gimpel said could switch the partisan balance would be to shift the makeup of immigrants toward better-skilled, higher-educated immigrants.
Some Republicans have fought for that policy, though Democrats have insisted that any effort to rewrite the immigration laws to add higher-skilled workers must be coupled with a broad legalization of illegal immigrants and protections for current family-based immigration categories.