Our 24/7 Twitter-powered media culture covers politics like a horse race–scoreboards and all–and easily assigns blame. With comprehensive immigration reform, shining a harsh spotlight on Republicans is justified because they have been unable to reign in the fringe–despite hemorrhaging the Latino vote in 2012 and autopsy reports which conclude outreach to new voters such as minorities is beneficial to the party’s long-term survival. Indeed, the extremists have wrested the debate from the GOP rank and file, eclipsing the growing coalition of conservatives who support reform such as–¡Virgen Santísima!–the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Evangelical Christians.
Although Latino immigrants cluster in areas, the 2010 Census shows the explosive growth of this segment of the population, not in Texas and Florida but South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. There’s another group found in every state, especially these Southern and Midwestern Republican strongholds: “older whites without college.” Reporting in the National Journal, Ron Brownstein explains that unlike other whites such as those who are younger and attended college, and African-Americans, Older White Voter believes immigration threatens our American traditions.
The Big Why-Immigration-Reform-Always-Stalls Reveal?
This voter forms the bedrock of the GOP which controls the House. Brownstein writes:
“The contrasting sentiments among whites capture some of the pressure facing Republicans as they navigate through racially charged issues like immigration reform. While other polls have found that even a majority of whites and Republicans favor a pathway to citizenship for immigrants here illegally, these results point to a deeper unease about America’s changing face among groups on which Republicans now heavily rely. “
Unlike Latinos and youth voters, come Election Day, Older White Voter consistently shows up. Therefore the ad nauseam reporting that Speaker John Boehner’s inaction on immigration will lead to the Republican party’s demise is only partially true. As I ask in Immigration Reform: Where’s the Center?, what incentive does the Speaker have to stick out his neck on an issue that angers and terrifies his reliable voting bloc?
These voters are yet to be converted which leads the finger pointing back to the supporters of immigration reform. This coalition’s aforementioned new bloc, and the diverse Latino advocacy community made up of traditional giants such as the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the scrappy, young DREAMers, also own this legislation’s loss of momentum. By reading the polling in Brownstein’s article, it’s clear immigration reform supporters have not won over Older Whites. What is likelier to happen sooner: Old White Voters die off en masse or new voters become evangelical about civic engagement and participation, voting no matter what? Before you answer, consider this: Hispanic activists mobilized 11.2 million eligible Latino voters in November of 2012. But they failed to convince the 12.1 million eligibles to get off their tushes and vote.
To move comprehensive reform forward, the advocacy community should add a prong to its engagement strategy and start showing up where Old White Voter is.
Old folks homes? 5:30 Early Bird special dinner? Wednesday night bingo?
Like any relationship, results won’t appear overnight. But this investment is necessary to maximize immigration reform’s chances of one day passing.