Monday, October 24, 2011

Immigration as an Issue

Two excellent things to read this morning about immigration as an issue, and how it is playing out in the Republican nomination contest and how it may affect the general election. Ed Kilgore has been (correctly I believe) emphasizing the effects of Rick Perry's immigration policy and comments on his recent collapse in the polls; Jamelle Bouie has a good item focusing on the general election effects of Republican politicians alienating potentially sympathetic Latino voters. I recommend both.

What strikes me as interesting about immigration as an issue is the contrast with abortion, which has also been in the news lately thanks to Herman Cain's inability to talk about it properly. Sarah Kliff has a good item out about the history of abortion as an issue, but what I think is worth adding is that abortion as an issue has very much been driven (I think especially on the pro-life side) by organized groups. That's pretty normal in party politics; the same is true about guns, and to a large extent taxes, on the Republican side. I don't think the same is true about immigration. While there are organized anti-immigration groups, I don't see them as having the same sort of influence over the debate at all. Instead, immigration as an issue is far more driven by ordinary voter attitudes, which are then reflected back and (in the course of that process) further inflamed by opportunistic politicians.

The other part of this is that immigration is far more cross-cutting than most issues. On the Republican side, business lobbies generally support efforts (such as those supported by George W. Bush and John McCain) to ensure a ready supply of inexpensive labor -- which means, in practical terms, supporting easy immigration policies of one kind or another. There are well-known interest group clashes on the Democratic side, as well. But I think what interests me most during the nomination process is that because it's more voter-driven than group-driven, it's a much harder issue for candidates to deal with. There's simply no one with any authority at all to assert what the correct position on the issue is, or what bills or language you're supposed to use to be there. And so it's easy to see how any candidate could wind up entangled in the issue, just as Perry was recently.

I think if you add that up it means that Perry was probably right to go after Mitt Romney on immigration, and he should probably keep pushing.


  1. Good point. The usual R position on abortion* is it isn't good for other people, but very useful for your daughter when she gets knocked up. In that sense Cain isn't off the reservation.

    But I do think abortion is in long term decline as an issue. Whether that is voter fatigue or structural decline of actors I don't know.

    Also, there is a strong element of abortion politics which is about controlling high school age girls.

    * Catholics aside. In high school, I knew two guys who knocked women up and in both cases brought to term (and adopted). Other friends families expanded to 8 or so as they adopted distant relatives babies. All very admirable.

    In terms of immigration, I'd say it is more regional. Mexicans, as a whole, are pretty law abiding. With notable exceptions, they aren't the wholesale source of crimes like, say, blacks are. In areas that have seem a lot of immigration in the past 20+ years, immigration isn't an issue. When you have all-white exurbs with Mexicans loitering around looking for work -- people go apeshit.

    I hope that this post offends everyone! As a pro-hispanic anti-abortion democrat I doubt I have many friends out there!

  2. I see what Plain Blogger means about immigration being an issue driven by voters rather than interest groups. I consistently read reports about how virtually every interest group is pro-immigration in some way. Evangelicals and Mormons see Latinos as possible recruits... And generally they oppose inhumane treatment of people anyway. Businesses need the cheap labor. Economists say we need population grown to buoy the economy. And yet voters feel so strongly about the issue that all those groups appear, as of yet, unable to get real and very necessary immigration reform done.

    I've been reading a steady stream of nightmarish headlines coming out of Alabama, where they just passed a very restrictive immigration law. Apart from the stories of Latino kids afraid to go to school and families fleeing the state, there are reports that the agriculture business is in a panic. Apparently even desperate Americans aren't willing to do backbreaking farm labor for $3 an hour. And so the crops are rotting. Alabama stands to lose millions of dollars on the law.

    I wonder if that example will serve to motivate he interest groups to push the public conversation away from xenophobia.

  3. No, it's not "groups" pushing the pro-life message, nor the 2nd amendment message, nor even taxes. Certainly, the hard Left is in lockstep on one side of those issues, and will always revert to a "What's the Matter With Kansas?" form of analysis, but it is the People pushing these issues. People first, then groups, then.

    Similarly with immigration issues, although it's harder for the Left to attach it to evil "groups", because as we see in the Blue Dogs' defeat of Bush's immigration "see you at the Rose Garden signing ceremony" plans, it's impossible to split this along the Left's favorite, simple polarities. So their model breaks down.

  4. Anon 4:53 -- if you're THE Anonymous, you've been reading long enough to know that JB thinks groups are great, that organized acrivism is a crucial part of democracy and so on, no?

  5. I think it's becoming evident that Rick Perry operates from the Ronald Reagan playbook: i.e., his record is far less congenial to the TEA radicals than his rhetoric is. But we're way beyond the 80s, and there's no way he's going to be able to play that game.

    As for the immigration issue: it's only a good thing for Perry to go after Romney on the issue if it weakens its salience overall. Which it very well may, if the only two viable candidates are both perceived as hopelessly squishy on it.

  6. classicist, don't know what any individuals think about "groups", I'm just responding to the Left's struggle against their stupid and evil enemies, who are obviously delusional and are constantly being brainwashed by "groups". ;-)

    Groups may not be what you think they are, in other words.

  7. the classicist said...

    " Anon 4:53 -- if you're THE Anonymous, you've been reading long enough to know that JB thinks groups are great, that organized acrivism is a crucial part of democracy and so on, no?"

    I read comments on several google-authenticating blogs, and 90% of Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms. Anonymous' comments are garbage.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?