Some thoughts on the political implications of voting for comprehensive immigration reform in the House

There has been some speculation recently as to the political consequences for members of the House of Representatives on what is likely to be a summer vote on comprehensive immigration reform (see here and here, e.g.). Much of this discourse has focused on the general narrative that Republican elites want to pass comprehensive immigration reform so as to broaden their appeal to the Latino electorate, but that several of the GOP rank-and-file in the House may not vote for it because of fear that they’ll lose their next election in 2014.

Here’s my take on that particular narrative and the incentives involved for the various groups in the House:

Democrats from liberal districts: They will vote for immigration reform and they have every incentive from their constituents to do so.

Democrats from conservative districts: They might vote for it or they might vote against it; their constituents will probably not want them to. Either way, this group is not as influential simply because most of them lost in the 2010 midterm election. There aren’t enough left to drive the agenda!

Republicans from liberal districts: Not overly relevant: there are even fewer of them than there are Democrats from conservative districts.

Republicans from conservative districts: The question with this group is whether or not a Republican would risk losing their next election if they vote for comprehensive immigration reform against the wishes of their constituents. While there is some evidence (see here) that specific votes for Obama’s agenda cost representatives a few percentage points in the 2010 presidential election, the available evidence strongly suggests that Republican partisans, given the choice between voting for a Republican who voted for immigration reform and a Democrat, they’ll choose the Republican. The more relevant threat to these Republicans would be from a potential primary challenger. Focusing on that possibility would make for a more interesting and relevant narrative, from my perspective.

Finally, I tend to agree with those who argue that even if the GOP jumps on board and passes comprehensive immigration reform, there will likely not be a mass exodus of Latino parties to the Republican party in the 2014 or 2016 elections. Latinos, like most other demographic groups, are fairly stable with their partisan identities and voting preferences. If the GOP wants to regain some recent losses among Latinos, they should expect to have to dig in for the long haul. 

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