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The Electoral Consequences of Granting Citizenship to Undocumented Immigrants

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Senate’s Gang of 8 Comprehensive Immigration Reform provides a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States.  While there are many policy considerations being explored, the fate of this proposed legislation, or any compromise with the House of Representatives, may hinge on purely political grounds. Critics, particularly Republicans, worry about what these undocumented-immigrants-turned-new-voters could mean come Election Day.

Surprisingly, there has been limited examination of how the Gang of 8’s proposals might affect electoral outcomes. While some believe the impact is clearly negative toward Republicans, this analysis—specifically examining the impact of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants—suggests that the effects of immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship would be small.

Following a similar approach as Harry Enten of The Guardian and Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics, I broke down the numbers by state to examine how many undocumented immigrants live in each state, how many are over the age of 18, how many would seek and gain citizenship, how many of the new citizens would be of Hispanic and Asian origin, and lastly who these new citizens would vote for on Election Day.  To simulate the effects of the pathway to citizenship, I assumed the reform bill had been implemented in enough time to fully affect the November 2012 Presidential election.

I explored three different scenarios that run from more favorable toward Democrats to more favorable toward Republicans.  The first scenario, or best case for Democrats, assumes a high citizenship rate for the undocumented immigrants, a voter turnout increase among these new voters, and Republicans not gaining any electoral shift despite taking a lead on comprehensive reform.  This scenario only shifts the national election 1.1 points in President Obama’s direction with no state flipping its Electoral College votes.

However, because of the arduous process the Gang of 8’s bill demands for the pathway to citizenship, it is probably more prudent to examine lessor citizenship rates.  Scenario 2 looks at a lower citizenship rate, a lessor turnout bump, and a partisan shift toward Republicans to put their voting shares more in line with earlier voting trends.  This would only shift the national results about 0.4 points toward the President and would make Florida effectively a 2000-style toss-up.

Finally, it is feasible to imagine a case where turnout among these new citizens actually drops.  Under Scenario 3, the citizenship rate is lowered, the turnout is decreased from the 2012 levels, and Republicans gain the most partisan advantage making their share similar to George W. Bush’s 2004 levels.  This effectively washes out any advantage for the Democrats, shifting the election just 0.06 points in the Democrats favor.

Comprehensive immigration reform will undoubtedly change the political landscape. Making reasoned assumptions about how many undocumented immigrants will naturalize and how these new citizens will vote shows that the Democrats’ margin of victory would shift between a point and effectively, none at all. On the whole, the electoral effects are small and a weak excuse for Republicans to oppose comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

To read the analysis in full, please see the link below.

The Electoral Consequences of Granting Citizenship to Undocumented Immigrants (PDF)

 

Follow Carson Bruno on Twitter: @CarsonJFBruno