April 15 (Bloomberg) -- As Hispanic and Asian-Americans account for a growing share of the U.S. electorate -- one in four of all American voters by 2020 -- Republicans face a political imperative in supporting a path to citizenship for many of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Among Hispanic and Asian-American voters, who gave more than 70 percent of their support to President Barack Obama last year, the establishment of a route to citizenship will be “a key determinant” in how they vote in the 2016 presidential election, a Bloomberg Government study released today shows.
Awareness of the need to re-engage Hispanic and Asian-Americans is driving Republican attempts to revise the nation’s immigration laws this year, with bipartisan groups in the Senate and House of Representatives working on plans. The Democratic-run Senate is taking the lead on legislation, with the chamber’s Judiciary Committee planning a hearing on the matter this week and leaders anticipating floor debate in May.
With Obama insisting on a path to citizenship as part of any comprehensive immigration rewrite, Republicans face another factor in persuading their rank-and-file members to support some form of legalization.
“There will never be a bill without a pathway to citizenship signed by the president,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and member of the Senate group. “And in turn there will never by a pathway to citizenship without a new immigration system.”
The political factor is spelled out in opinion polls.
The BGov study notes that 42 percent of Hispanics surveyed say they would be less likely to vote for a Republican if the party took a leading role in blocking an immigration overhaul, citing a survey released March 5 by Latino Decisions, a Seattle, Washington-based research firm.
A similar share of Hispanics who voted for Obama’s re-election in 2012 -- 43 percent -- say they would be more likely to vote Republican in the future if the party takes a leading role on the issue, the Latino Decisions poll found.
For Republicans, “actually being ahead of the issue and finding a way to lead would allow them to make inroads with those key voters, who they need to find a way to win,” said Matthew Hummer, a quantitative analyst at Bloomberg Government and author of the study with analyst Jorge Uquillas.
Their study calls it “a win-win” for the party.
Allowing undocumented immigrants to seek citizenship would slowly affect an already-growing Hispanic electorate, the study says. Negotiators are proposing that it take at least 10 years for any of the undocumented, estimated to number about 11 million, already living in the U.S. to obtain legal residency and ultimately citizenship.
As a result, the study finds, the most likely path to citizenship will add 4.4 million new voters to the rolls beginning in the early 2020’s.
Even without that change, Hispanic and Asian-American voters will account for 22 percent of the voting population by the 2016 presidential election, the study says. That is up 2 percent from the last election, in which exit polls found that 71 percent of Hispanic voters and 74 percent of Asian-Americans supported Obama’s re-election.
Their share of the voting population will rise to 25 percent by the 2020 election.
Mostly Hispanic immigrants from other North American countries (which includes those in Central America) accounted for 8.9 million of the undocumented in the U.S., with 800,000 from South America, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Asians accounted for 1.3 million, the agency said.
The growth of the Hispanic and Asian-American voting blocs will be enough to make a difference in the 2016 election in just one state -- Florida --the study finds. Florida, which has become a pivotal swing-state in recent decades as its voters have supported both Republican and Democratic candidates for president, backed Obama in 2008 and again in 2012.
Florida’s share of Hispanic and Asian voters could rise by 2.7 percentage points from 2012 to 2016, the study says -- 1.8 percentage points greater than Obama’s margin of victory over Republican challenger Mitt Romney in 2012.
Four other swing-states -- Virginia, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico -- already have large Hispanic and Asian-American populations, cumulatively averaging 17 percent of their voters registered in 2010. Obama also carried these states twice.
For Republicans, winning any of the five in 2016 is only possible with a candidate heavily favored by the Hispanic and Asian-American populations, the study finds.
The last Republican to claim a large vote from these constituents was former President George W. Bush. In his 2004 re-election, he received 44 percent of the Hispanic vote and 43 percent support from Asian Americans, according to exit polls.
Without inroads into these populations in swing states, Hummer said, a Republican presidential candidate “would literally have to turn to the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic and get all those states” to win election.
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