Why Eric Cantor really lost and what it means for GOP outreach to Asian Voters
Within minutes of Eric Cantor’s primary loss dozens of knee-jerk reactions in the national media called the upset bad news for immigration reform. Let’s be clear – Eric Cantor was never a friend of immigration reform, nor was he a champion of GOP outreach to Latinos. Cantor was more closely aligned with the immigration obstructionist in the House than those serious about bipartisan reform. While his opponent, David Brat does hold very strong anti-immigrant policy views, Cantor’s loss had almost nothing to do with immigration reform. Cantor lost because of his strong affiliation with establishment House Republicans, as a long time DC insider, and his Republican constituents frustration over the utter inability for House leadership to move any mainstream agenda forward. His loss was about anti-incumbent, anti-DC sentiments that were most famous in the 2010 midterms, but still linger today.
Cantor’s loss and Brat’s anti-immigrant positioning provide an opportunity to assess exactly what the now overly-analyzed primary election for Virginia’s 7th district means for immigration reform and 2014. According to our extensive review of the immigration issue we offer three critical take-aways from the Cantor loss:
1) Anti-Immigrant candidates continue to lose in Virginia general elections (e.g. Ken Cuccinelli).
2) Pro-immigration reform Republicans win more primaries than they lose.
3) As the GOP continues to promote anti-immigrant candidates like Brat they only further alienate Latino and Asian voters.
1) Anti-Immigrant candidates continue to lose in Virginia general elections. Before people read too deep into Brat’s primary win, check back to the 2013 election for Governor of Virginia in which Republican Ken Cuccinelli lost a close election in large part due to his anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. The year before that, Mitt Romney lost the swing state of Virginia while running on his infamous “self-deport” and veto the DREAM Act platform. Also in 2012, Republican George Allen who wanted to make English the official language and repeal birthright citizenship to U.S. born kids, lost his Senate bid to Tim Kaine who staked out a clear pro-immigration reform stance. That’s 0 for 3 for the last three Republicans who tried to win a Virginia election on an anti-immigrant record.
2) Pro-immigration reform Republicans win more primaries than they lose. On the same day that Cantor lost, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham easily won his primary in conservative South Carolina with 57% of the vote. His closest challenger – who attacked him for supporting immigration reform – won just 15% of the primary vote. Graham you will recall was a co-sponsor of the Gang of 8 immigration reform bill that passed the U.S. Senate. Despite his very strong support for immigration reform, Graham easily prevailed in his primary. In Ohio’s 14th district, Matt Lynch campaigned on a strict anti-immigrant platform and called David Joyce too moderate on immigration, but the moderate candidate Joyce easily defeated the anti-immigrant candidate Lynch. In Georgia’s U.S. Senate primary, the most anti-immigrant candidate in the race, Paul Broun, ended up with less than 10% of the Republican vote, losing to businessman David Perdue. In California’s 10th district, Republican Jeff Denham who has co-sponsored immigration reform legislation in the House didn’t even draw a Republican challenger.
3) As the GOP continues to promote anti-immigrant candidates like Brat they only further alienate Latino and Asian voters. Perhaps the most critical lesson of Cantor’s loss is for the GOP itself. A Latino Decisions poll released June 4, 2014 finds that Latino voters are still highly movable when it comes to Republicans and immigration. 61% of Latino voters said that they would be willing to give the GOP a second chance and hear them out on all the issues if the GOP support comprehensive immigration reform. Not bad. However, if the GOP blocks a vote on immigration reform in the House, 74% of Latino voters say they will have an even less favorable view towards the Republican party overall. And, 63% of Latinos say that anti-immigrant statements from individual Republicans (say, perhaps David Brat), make them look less favorably on the Republican party as a whole. And it’s not just Latino voters who have been turned off by Republicans anti-immigrant rhetoric, Asian voters also saying they are less favorable towards Republicans. A Latino Decisions election eve poll in Virginia among Latino and Asian voters in the 2013 gubernatorial election found a majority of both Latinos and Asians agreed that Cuccinelli’s statements about immigrants were a driving factor in their vote against him, and it had spillover effects, making both Latinos and Asians less likely to support Republicans overall.
If the GOP does not correct course on the immigration issue and their Latino outreach efforts, the Mitt Romney debacle of 2012 will be seen as the glory days. They could very realistically sink to less than 20% of the Latino vote in 2014 and 2016 if they follow the path of anti-immigrant candidates. Sharron Angle and her 10% of the Latino vote is not a model the GOP wants to replicate.
New Race Politics and the Virginia Election
Virginia’s election results were a deep disappointment for Republicans who have long been competitive—even dominant—in this Southern state. Terry McAuliffe defeated Ken Cuccinelli 48%-45%, and the margin was greater in the Lt. Governor’s race. A closely contested Attorney General’s race is too close to call.
As we reported last night, Latino Decisions 2013 Election Eve poll in Virginia (complete slide deck, topline results and full cross tabs), provided stark evidence of the demographic train-wreck that has beset the GOP in its current incarnation. While the exit polls suggest that Cuccinelli carried whites by a sizable 56%-36% margin (and 58%-33% among white men!), the story of the election is, as it was in 2012, a demographic one.
Latino Decisions estimates that Democrat Terry McAuliffe outpaced his GOP opponent, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, by 37 percentage points among Latinos and 29 percentage points among Asian Americans, receiving 66% of Latino vote and 63% of Asian American vote. Added to the exit poll estimates of African American vote (90%-8% favoring McAuliffe), it is abundantly clear that the GOP has a demographic problem of immense proportions.
In our posts yesterday, we laid bare how important immigration was to Latino and Asian American voters and illustrated, with a split-sample design, how much anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies mobilized support for McAuliffe.
Immigration mattered—a great deal—to Latino and Asian voters making choices and they were very put off by the policies and language used by the Attorney General. Moreover, it is worth noting that over 90,000 black immigrant naturalized citizens live in the Commonwealth, suggesting that other key voting blocs might have found immigration a critical issue.
Looking at the exit polls with respect to white non-Hispanic voters, it is easy to see how critical white voters have become to GOP candidates incapable of reaching into other populations. White voters, estimated at 72% of the electorate, gave 56% of their ballots to the GOP nominees. White voters, then, were responsible for 40.3% of Cuccinelli’s 45.5% of the vote…or 89% of all his votes won. As the white electorate grows smaller as a share of the total, the necessary margin among whites will have to grow substantially for the GOP to stay competitive in Virginia.
Can that happen? Perhaps, but we think it is unlikely with candidates like Ken Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli underperformed previous GOP nominee Gov. Bob McDonnell by 11 percentage points. Four of those went to McAuliffe and the rest, presumably, to the Libertarian Rob Sarvis. For those willing to embrace a whites-only approach, this may give them false hope that a different candidate could have won on the strength of white vote alone so in four years things will be different. But that is wrong on two fronts. First, we would be foolish to assume that the white share of the electorate will be the same in the next election or the one after that. In this election, whites were 72% of the total turned out electorate, down 7% from the 79% they were four years ago. What share of the electorate will whites be in 2017?
Second, and perhaps more importantly, Cuccinelli does not appear to be a radical departure from much of his party’s base. Among GOP identifiers, he held on to 92% of the voters. It was among independents—where exit polls show him under-performing McDonnell by 19 percentage points—where white voters really abandoned the GOP nominee. We should not assume that the only voters put off by this particular brand of conservatism are voters of color. In political science research examining the political effects of anti-immigrant politics in California, the partisan effects were visible not only among minority voters but also among moderate whites. There is every reason to expect that among moderate independents in the Northern Virginia DC suburbs, disproportionately educated voters, the same effect will occur, and the votes last night are consistent with this.
The demography is relentless and immigration remains a loser for GOP candidates in diverse electorates.
See more on the 2013 Virginia Election Eve Poll: slide deck, topline results and full cross tabs.
Census 2012 vote data highlight dramatic shift in racial diversity of American electorate
New data from the November 2012 U.S. Census Current Population Survey (CPS) reveals a major shift in the U.S. voting population, with the number of White, non-Hispanic voters declining by more than 2 million from 2008 to 2012. In contrast, the number of Latino, African American and Asian American voters increased by a combined 3.7 million in just 4 years. During the run up to the 2012 election many notable pollsters and pundits failed to observe the changing demographics of the American electorate, with some such as Gallup forecasting as many as 80% of all voters would be White, after which noted Political Scientist Alan Abromowitz predicted that, “Gallup’s likely voter sample appears to be substantially under-representing non-white voters,” two weeks before election day. Building on the analysis by Abramowitz, Latino Decisions posted a lengthy report in October 2012 about how most polls were missing the growing Latino electorate.
Now that the Census has released its official estimates the data are clear: the Latino, Black and Asian vote are growing at a historic pace, and for the first time in history the raw number of White votes declined from one election to the next. These changes are not unique to 2012, but part of a larger and irreversible trend in American politics in which the electorate is becoming increasingly diverse.
From 2008 to 2012 the total number of votes cast among White, non-Hispanics changed from 100,042,000 to 98,041,000, a net drop of 2 million votes. In contrast the number of Latino voters increased from 9,745,000 in 2008 to 11,188,000 in 2012, a net increase of 1.4 million and African American votes increased even more by nearly 1.7 million. Asian American voters, which received considerable notice in 2012 for the first time grew by over half a million from 3,357,000 to 3,904,000. In total, nearly 3.7 million more minority votes were cast in 2012, while White votes dropped by 2 million.
The changes are even more dramatic comparing 2004 to 2012. Although White votes increased slightly from 2004 to 2008, across eight years from 2004 to 2012, the number of Whites voting declined by 1.5 million. However the number of Black voters grew by almost 3.8 million in eight years, while the number of Latino voters grew by 3.6 million. Asian Americans added 1.1 million voters, and combined, there were a staggering 8.5 million more minority voters in 2012 than in 2004. While White voters are declining – a group Republicans won in both 2008 and 2012 by an average 57-41 in both years – Minority voters are growing by over 8 million – a group that Obama won in both 2008 and 2012 by an average 81-19 in both years.
The trends identified in the November 2012 U.S. Census CPS will continue for some time to come. Because of the comparatively young age of Latinos, Blacks, and Asians the minority population will only continue to increase as part of the eligible, and voting population. On the other hand, White, non-Hispanics are much older, and are aging out of the electorate. As of 2012, the median age of the White, non-Hispanic population was 42.3, while the media age for Asian Americans was about 9 years younger at 33.2, Blacks were over 11 years younger than Whites at 30.9, and Latinos were about 15 years younger at a median age at 27.6. What’s more, the Census reported in 2012 that for the first time ever, a majority of all babies born in the U.S. were non-White.
The population dynamics are sure to change the American electorate beyond 2012 as the number of Latino, Black, and Asian voters continues to grow at a pace much faster than for Whites, who are likely to continue facing declines in their voting eligible population for years to come.