According to an election eve poll conducted by Latino Decisions, immigration was the top issue for Latino voters in this election cycle.
— National Council of La Raza, Press Release, Thursday, November 6, 2014
What is the truth in this statement now that we know that so many Latinos eligible to vote stayed home? If it was their top issue, then President Obama’s early September announcement to delay any executive action on immigration until after the election, presented them with two alternatives: vote to retain a Democratic majority in the Senate and to obtain a Democratic majority in the House, or stay home to protest. The voter turnout would suggest that they chose the second. And, the day after the election, the President said he “heard” the two-thirds (of all voters, including Hispanic voters) who stayed home. Accordingly, he has spoken constantly since then about issuing an executive order on immigration.
This poll cited in La Raza’s press release is dated October 17, and, while it shows dissatisfaction with Obama’s handling of immigration (51% generally, and 56% specifically related to deportations), it did not ask for a response to Obama’s September announcement. Moreover, when we take a close look at the poll, it does not support the La Raza press release that immigration was the “top issue” among Hispanic voters.
Let me observe as an important initial matter that I find nothing explicit on the website of Latino Decisions showing that the poll, of 4,200 people, was of people registered to vote or people who have voted in the past. This appears to be implied by the first question that asked how likely the respondent would be to vote (71% were certain they’d vote). And it may be implied by the second question that asked the respondent to compare how enthusiastic he or she would be to vote in 2014 compared to 2012. But still, there was no explicit question asking if the respondent had voted in 2012 or was registered to vote in 2014.
A poll has to be taken of the right people. For example, on this page in June 2012, Ross Kaminsky reported on a Gallup poll. He stated that pollsters must differentiate between registered Hispanics and other Hispanics: “Hispanic registered voters have, as a group, rather different priorities — with much less focus on immigration — than does the aggregate of all ‘U.S. Hispanics.’”
The October Latino Decisions poll had two questions regarding the importance of immigration policy. Neither support the La Raza press release’s statement that immigration was the “top issue” among Latino voters.
The first question in the poll identified 13 issues of public policy and respondents could identify one or two issues that were important to them. If they chose two, they would give the order of their importance. The results are difficult to understand because we do not learn how many gave two answers and their order. The poll results show 51% selected immigration (for how many of these was immigration second rather than first?) and the second most cited issue was the economy — by 35% (for how many respondents was this issue first rather than second?).
The second question in the October Latino Decisions poll on the importance of immigration asked only about immigration and the level of this issue’s importance to the respondent. The results were:
Surely the fact that 34% thought immigration was just somewhat important or not important is significant.
By its own terms, this poll does not support the statement that immigration was the “top issue” for Hispanics prior to the election. Indeed, it shows it was the “top issue” for only 25%. Also, one cannot discern from these results whether the importance of the issue led the respondent to be in favor or against Obama, or in favor or against the Congress.
In the 2012 Gallup poll cited by Ross Kaminsky, “among Hispanic registered voters, immigration is the fifth most important issue, after health care, unemployment, economic growth, and even ‘the gap between the rich and the poor.’” I ask you: If immigration was fifth in 2012, why would it be first in 2014? It could be so, but why? Was it Obama’s September 2014 announcement delaying his executive action that raised the prominence of the issue? The Latino Decisions poll of October doesn’t tell us.
Another criticism of this October Latino Decisions poll is that it doesn’t sort out the various aspects of what it routinely described in its questions as “immigration policy” or “comprehensive immigration reform.” For example, the question mentioned above that listed 13 issues for respondents to consider amalgamated “Immigration/DREAM Act/refugees.” We do not learn from this poll the reaction of respondents to: people who were brought here as children, being allowed to remain and to work, the expansion of the number of legally admitted unskilled and skilled workers, etc.
There was one question in the poll that dealt with a sub-issue, deportations, but that question had severe problems. The question described Obama’s deportation of 2.1 million people as of August 2014, and stated that this was more deportations than all other presidents, and then asked if this made the respondent more or less enthusiastic about Obama. Here are several problems with the question:
I’d like to turn to the media’s constant reference to the “Hispanic vote” as though it were a bloc, a monolithic bloc. Let’s assume for this purpose that the Latino Decisions poll was of likely voters. The poll indicates that “Hispanic voters” include a large number who hold a view contrary to conventional wisdom. According to the poll:
Wouldn’t it be interesting to learn more about these voters?
To further differentiate among Hispanic voters, I would like polls to analyze the intent and voting patterns of Hispanic respondents based on the following:
Many people treat the immigration issue as one of particular interest to Hispanic voters. Is this true? How does the ranking of importance that Hispanic voters give to immigration compare to how all likely voters rank it? Or how does the ranking of importance that Hispanic voters give to immigration compare to how likely voters who share the same ethnicity with people who have overstayed their visas — Irish, Polish, German, Filipino, Indian, Chinese, etc. — rank it?
Polls should also determine why immigration is important to Hispanics. What various motivations might they have? Is it important to them because:
In sum, candidates for public office in America cannot know how best to appeal to voters who are Hispanic based on polls that do not determine their reaction to various sub-issues on immigration and do not determine their motivations. In any event, one would hope that every candidate would appeal to all voters, including Hispanic voters, based on issues, based on ideology, based on the promotion of liberty and fidelity to the Constitution, rather than based on ethnic or racial identity. This is the argument made by Grover Norquist on these pages in 2012 in an essay entitled “Demography, Destiny, and Delusion.”
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