Harshing the Immigration Narrative

The conventional wisdom about the near-collapse of the Republican Party in California is that Proposition 187 in 1994 doomed the party with Latino voters. Prop. 187 sought to bar illegal immigrants from eligibility for state social services; it passed by a comfortable margin and was struck down in federal court. I’ve long harbored doubts about this theme, in part because of how it is used as a cudgel against Republicans by people (liberals and the media) who mean the party no good at all. So their motive here is suspect. Unfortunately too many Republicans buy into this narrative.

A brand new article out from political scientists at Stanford and UCLA in the journal Political Behavior casts new doubt on the conventional wisdom:

Reexamining the Effect of Racial Propositions on Latinos’ Partisanship in California

Iris Hui, David O. Sears


Many seasoned politicians and scholars have attributed the loss in support for the Republican Party in California to its push for three racially divisive propositions in the mid- 1990s, especially the anti-immigrant Proposition 187. Their costs are said to involve the partisan realignment of Latinos against the Republicans. Using three separate data sources, we find no evidence of a “tipping point” or abrupt realignment among Latino registered voters who made up the electorate. Latinos’ partisanship within California did not change significantly; it did not change much when compared to nearby states; nor did voter registration change materially. The loss of support for Republicans occurred primarily among unregistered Latino voters whom historically had never been strong supporters. Our findings question the conventional wisdom about the powerful political effects of the propositions, and reaffirm the long standing conclusion in the literature that realignment due to a “critical election” is rare.

Unfortunately the complete article is behind a robust (and expensive!) paywall that I’ve been unable to pierce even with my academic foothold. However, in searching around for additional commentary or alternative access for this article, I came across this very interesting abstract from a 2006 edition of International Migration:

Partisanship and Views about Immigration in Southern California: Just How Partisan is the Issue of Immigration?

Max Nieman, Martin Johnson, Shawn Bowler


Given the prevailing levels of elite partisan contentiousness over immigration issues, we expect to see mass attitudes towards immigration replicate this polarization. We explore the partisan implications of this issue by examining popular attitudes towards immigrants in California, where attitudes towards immigration and immigrants have formed central themes in a series of highly charged political campaigns and elite discourse on the issue is polarized. Yet even in California we find that many different kinds of voters share a surprisingly similar set of concerns about the flow of immigrants into the nation. We are particularly interested in whether Democrats and Republicans view the public policy consequences of immigration in similar or different ways. We find that Republicans more likely indicate they think immigration will have harmful effects on social and policy outcomes in the United States, but Democrats tend to share similar concerns. One consequence of this pattern is that the US Republican Party – at least the party in California – may be able to use the immigration issue as a wedge to attract support from people who tend to support Democratic candidates, often thought friendlier to immigrants.

Funny how Trump almost alone was the one to figure this out. Though I doubt International Migration is a journal often found on his reading pile.


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