Immigration and the 2012 Elections

Executive Summary

The results of the 2012 election, and the re-election of President Obama in particular, have led numerous lawmakers and pundits to proclaim that it was the candidates' support for amnesty legislation that secured their victories. Indeed, immigration appeared as a regular campaign topic in the 2012 election, maintaining its role as an important issue for voters. Most candidates included position statements on immigration on their campaign websites, and questions regarding a candidate's position on areas such as amnesty or the DREAM Act were frequently asked during debates. However, as FAIR's Election Report shows, embracing an amnesty agenda was not the deciding factor.

Of all the issues facing Americans, the economy was the number one issue on voters' minds. According to an Associated Press exit poll, 59% of voters identified the economy as their top issue (Associated Press, Nov. 7, 2012) Those who felt the economy is improving (four out of 10 voters) tended to vote for President Obama, while those who felt the economy is worsening (three out of 10 voters) tended to vote for Governor Romney.  (Id.)  Moreover, most voters (about 75%) perceived President Obama's policies would be more likely to help the middle class and poor.  In contrast, 53% said Romney's policies would favor the rich, and only 34% thought his policies would do more for the middle-class. (Id.) 

Indeed, President Obama, and Democrats in general, fared better among several demographics.  Women, in particular, helped President Obama win re-election, voting 55% in favor of the President and only 44% in favor of Governor Romney.  In addition, about 93% of African Americans and about 71% of Hispanics voted for the President. (Id.)  

Not surprisingly, amnesty advocates are now using these numbers to demand that Congress pass amnesty legislation for the roughly 12 million illegal aliens in the United States. They claim that as Hispanics "won the election" for President Obama and Senate Democrats, they now deserve to be rewarded.  But more importantly, they claim that it was the issue of immigration that caused Hispanics to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans.

However, several opinion polls conducted before the election reveal that the economy and healthcare — not immigration — were the dominant issues on the minds of Hispanics who voted in the 2012 election. In fact, multiple polling firms reported that likely and registered Hispanic voters listed immigration as only the fifth most important issue to them. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll released in June, only 12% of registered Hispanic voters stated that immigration policy was the issue most important to them, taking a backseat to "healthcare" (21%), "unemployment" (19%), "economic growth" (17%), and "the gap between the rich and the poor" (16%).  (USA Today/Gallup Poll, June 25, 2012)

In September, Fox News Latino released a poll of likely Hispanic voters, of which only six percent claimed that immigration was the most important issue to them. In that poll, 48% indicated the "economy" was their number one voting issue, followed by "healthcare" (14%), "education" (11%), and "social issues" (8%). (Fox News Latino Poll, Sept. 18, 2012)

And in October, the Pew Hispanic Center released a poll indicating that 34% of registered Hispanic voters considered immigration to be "an extremely important" issue to them. While this percentage appears greater than the USA Today/Gallup and Fox News Latino poll findings, immigration still ranked number five, behind the issues of "education" (55%), "jobs and the economy" (54%), "healthcare" (50%), and the "federal budget deficit" (36%). (Pew Hispanic Center Poll, Oct. 11, 2012)

An examination of key races in the 2012 election also demonstrates that despite the outcome of the Presidential race, it was not candidates' support for amnesty that led to victory.  In our 2012 Election Report, we first examine the Presidential race (including the Vice Presidential running mates) and collected public statements each had made on a wide spectrum of immigration issues, both recently and over the course of several years where applicable. Next, we took a sample of Senate and House races that were designated competitive by the Cook Political Report (primarily ones that were either deemed toss-up, lean Democrat, or lean Republican as of Oct. 4 and Oct. 25, respectively), and collected public statements from those candidates on a wide variety of immigration issues. Following the elections, we went back and looked at the positions of the winning and losing candidates. FAIR found that support for amnesty was not the determining factor in the 2012 elections.

Exit polling echoes these findings. A Breitbart News/Judicial Watch Election Night poll found 61% of voters favored Arizona-style immigration enforcement laws. (Breitbart News, Nov. 8, 2012) The polls also show a nation divided when it comes to President Obama's administrative amnesty, which grants illegal aliens under the age of 31 deferred action and work authorization for two years. On Election Day, about 40% of voters supported this policy while 37% opposed it. (Id.

Campaigning primarily on the economy, most candidates limited their discussion of immigration to their Party's standard talking points on amnesty, immigration enforcement, and border security. For example, candidates either appeared adamantly opposed to amnesty, or supported what they denied was an amnesty, but claimed was rather a path to legal status by getting to the end of the line and paying a fine.

For a more in-depth analysis of some of the key races FAIR analyzed, followed by a record of position statements made by the candidates whose races we evaluated, read the full report here.


November 2012