Poll Finds Immigration a Gateway Issue for Hispanic Voters


Ryan Williams, New American Economy, rwilliams@fp1strategies.com

Republican candidates start 2016 Presidential race at a disadvantage among Hispanic voters, but have opportunity to make inroads by embracing immigration reform

Washington, D.C. — New American Economy today released a new poll of national and swing state Hispanic voters testing how the issue of immigration influences Hispanic voting patterns.  The poll found that while Immigration is not the top issue for Hispanic voters – it trails the issue of Jobs and the Economy by more than 20 percentage points – the immigration issue plays a gateway role that dictates which way many Hispanic voters will cast their vote.  While the majority of Hispanic voters currently prefer the Democratic Party’s stance on immigration, the poll also finds many reasons for optimism for Republicans, who could be poised to make large inroads into the Hispanic electorate if they were perceived as supporters of immigration reform.

“As this new poll shows – immigration is an important issue to Hispanic voters, and contrary to popular belief, neither party can take those voters for granted,” said John Feinblatt, Chairman of New American Economy. “Looking ahead to the 2016 presidential election, Hispanic voters will represent a huge opportunity for both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates who support immigration reform.”

“For years now, immigration reform has been a polarizing topic, instead of being looked at as an opportunity that will expand the flexibility of the nation’s labor force and economic growth,” said Hector Barreto, President of the Hispanic Business Roundtable Institute and former US Small Business Administrator. “This poll exemplifies how 2016 candidates need to view immigration as a gateway issue for the Hispanic voter. Both parties need to step up and lead on this topic; however, this is a moment ripe for leadership on behalf of Republicans and common sense immigration reform will bring about victory in the upcoming election.”

Findings include:

  • Immigration is not the top issue for Hispanic voters, but it is a deeply personal issue: Jobs and the Economy were the top issue for more than twice as many Hispanic voters as was Immigration (37 percent to 14 percent), yet many Hispanic voters reported personal experience with the issue.  Thirty five percent of Hispanic voters in swing states reported having an immediate family member or close personal friend who is undocumented, including 47 percent of respondents in Nevada and 44 percent in Colorado.
  • Immigration is a gateway issue for many Hispanic voters that may often lead them to vote against candidates who support their views on other issues: Fifty-six percent of Hispanic voters in swing states would be less likely to vote for a Presidential candidate who opposes a path to citizenship or legal status, compared to just 16 percent who would be more likely to vote for such a candidate.  This trend holds true among both Hispanic Independents (55 percent vs. 19 percent) and Hispanic Republicans (44 percent vs. 20 percent).
    • Thirty percent of Hispanic Republican voters and 37 percent of Hispanic Independent voters in swing states said that they would probably or definitely not vote for a candidate who stood for most of the things they believed in if they took a stand on immigration that they disagreed with.
  • Republicans currently stand at a disadvantage with Hispanic voters:  Nearly twice as many Hispanic voters in swing states would vote for the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate (52 percent to 28 percent) if the 2016 Presidential election were held today.
    • When Hispanic swing state voters were asked to pair Hillary Clinton against her likely Republican challengers, her margin of victory ranged from 33 percent (Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio) to over 40 percent (Ted Cruz and Rick Perry).  
  • Republican candidates who support immigration reform have the potential to win a substantial share of the Hispanic vote, especially in key swing states: More than a quarter (27 percent) of Hispanic voters in swing states report no affiliation with either political party, and 65 percent of all swing state Hispanic voters are open to changing their minds on whom they will vote for in the 2016 election.  Immigration appears to be a key decider of whether they will.  As it currently stands, the voters most up for grabs in swing states – Hispanic Independent voters – prefer the Democratic Party’s stance on immigration over the Republican one by a factor of almost two to one (34 percent to 18 percent).
  • Hispanic voters support both reforms to secure our border and reforms to give legal status to undocumented immigrants:  While 84 percent of Hispanic voters in swing states think undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship or legal status – including 76 percent of Hispanic Republicans and 81 percent of Hispanic Independents – 85 percent of Hispanic voters in swing states also think that it is very or somewhat important to secure the border.

The Tarrance Group/The Bendixen & Amandi International immigration survey was conducted both nationally and in five states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina) on November 16-18, 2014 and surveyed a total of 1,684 Hispanic registered voters. The total sample has a margin of error of +/- 2.45 percent.

Full results are available here. 

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…