It is now a truism among election analysts that Mitt Romney needs to increase his vote among Hispanics in order to win. John McCain got about 30% of the Hispanic vote in 2008 and lost, and so the theory goes, Romney must increase it in order to win. Publicly, the Romney campaign agrees, and the result is we no longer hear him talk about immigration.
There are two major flaws with this reasoning. First, there is no evidence Romney is doing any better than McCain with Hispanics. But the white vote is moving toward the Republicans. Romney could win by increasing his share of the white vote above the 55% won by McCain. Though whites account for only 66% of the population, they are the most Republican voting demographic and made up 76% of the 2008 electorate. Hispanics were only 7.4% of the 2008 electorate. If the enthusiasm gap holds the turnout model this year will be significantly more Republican, and that means less Hispanic. (Keep in mind many Hispanics are ineligible to vote because they are non-citizens or underage.)
Increasingly, Republicans are more downscale, contrary to myth. Twenty-three percent of Republicans now self-identify as lower class, up from 13% in 2008. (I'll call then "downscale whites.") Three decades of mass immigration have taken their toll on this demographic. Immigrants compete with them for low-paying jobs, will work lower wages, and thus depress the wage rates in labor markets all over the country. blacks have not shifted their allegiance to the GOP, but high school educated whites in most of the nation have. They no longer can survive on a single full-time job and are in a permanent state of uneasiness. The Democrats have little to offer them any more except more regulation which they correctly perceive as a barrier to more jobs.
The critics have no answer to this. If Romney does better with downscale whites, then why bother with the attempt to appeal to Hispanics? The two strategies are somewhat inconsistent. Immigration is seen as a major complication in the livelihoods of downscale whites. We admit a million legal immigrants per year, and they tend to be unskilled and have no post-secondary education. The forces of supply and demand mean they will move to markets where such jobs predominate equalizing demand there and tending to lower wages. If the message to Hispanics is that we welcome more of them as immigrants, then this message cannot be reconciled with the message to downscale whites. Downscale white voters instinctively know this.
In my experience prosecuting RICO cases against employers of illegal immigrants I have interviewed hundreds of white and black American citizens struggling to survive in low-paying jobs. They are furious about immigration and blame it more than anything else for ruining their livelihoods. They may not be correct in this analysis. Globalization is partly attributable for the movement of jobs abroad, but we don't have the time or the means to change this perception. They see their communities filling up with Hispanics (and other immigrants) and know the result is a significant decline in their wages and ability to find jobs. Republicans need to cool it with their Marco Rubio appeals to the virtues of mass immigration. His parents were welcomed to this country because they were fleeing Communism not because we had a shortage of low-wage workers. For him to give the keynote address to the party convention is to implicitly say immigration is the key to the American dream. This is seen as a slap in the face to the millions of downscale whites who are struggling.
Romney should continue to oppose illegal immigration (which has been as high as a million people per year but has dropped substantially in the recession) and question why we have a million legal immigrants per year during a period of high unemployment. Such a level of legal immigration is simply indefensible right now. I'm not sure Hispanic voters would disagree. Only 27% of Hispanic voters in 2010 were immigrants. They need jobs too and tend to be downscale. So if Romney makes the economic case that we have a labor market, and the number of jobs is determined by the forces of supply and demand without wading into ethnicity, then he should make sense to a lot of people. Let the President justify a million legal immigrants per year, year in and year out regardless of the unemployment rate. Economics is a science, and our running away from science during the Bush years cost us.