Just a year ago, the GOP appeared poised to re-brand itself as a more moderate and inclusive party. When the party released its “post-mortem” report on the 2012 election, one of the key findings was that the Republican Party “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” And if you look at the numbers—demographic data and opinion surveys—you would say they were right.
So why did Speaker Boehner put a halt to any immigration reform yesterday? If you want to understand it, or fully capture the context for Rep. Labrador’s widely-reported belief that “it’s a mistake for us to have an internal battle in the Republican Party this year about immigration reform,” you need to get inside the base of the Republican Party.
Support for immigration reform among all voters remains high—last week’s CNN/ORC poll found that 54 percent of adults nationwide would support a plan to allow those already in the country to become legal residents. Add to that employment, fluency in English, and back taxes, and support jumps to 81 percent.
But if you look at how this issue breaks down by party, just a third (34 percent) of Republicans say we should create a way to accommodate those already here. By contrast, 55 percent of independents and 69 percent of Democrats believe there should be a way for those already here to become legal residents. The problem lies within the Republican Party—that same survey found just 29 percent of Tea Party supporters favor a path to legal residency.
Last summer, we conducted a major national survey and 6 focus groups among members of the Republican Party. What we found made us skeptical that House Republicans would take any action on immigration reform in the near future.