Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


mexico-ballot-box

(PHOTO: VEPAR5/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Hey GOP: Mexican Immigrants Aren’t Necessarily Democrats

• July 01, 2013 • 4:00 AM

(PHOTO: VEPAR5/SHUTTERSTOCK)

New research suggests Mexican immigrants in the U.S. are all over the political spectrum—and those on the right are more likely to vote.

Once you get past all of the posturing, opposition to immigration reform among congressional Republicans is at least partially based on self-preservation. There is a widespread belief that Mexican immigrants who become citizens are overwhelmingly disposed to vote Democratic.

Newly published research suggests that’s a complete misreading of the facts. According to this analysis, politically engaged Mexicans who move to the U.S. fall all over the ideological spectrum, very much like native-born Americans.

What’s more, according to University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist Sergio Wals, those on the right are more inclined to participate in the American electoral process than those on the left.

The notion that offering citizenship to undocumented immigrants will help Democrats has been widely discussed in recent months. In April, Politico asserted that immigrant reform could “produce an electoral bonanza for Democrats.”

“There is no single rationale inherent in the results of this study that the current advantage held by the Democratic Party over the Republican Party, in terms of electoral support among U.S. citizens of Mexican origin, could not be altered.”

That analysis was quickly refuted by Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics, but fear among Republicans hasn’t abated. Just last week, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly insisted that Mexican immigrants “don’t have any Republican inclinations at all.”

In fact, “The foreign-born segment of the population is more up-for-grabs than generally depicted in electoral terms,” Wals writes in the journal Electoral Studies.

Wals uses data from two surveys of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S.: One conducted in 2003, and another in 2008. Both groups (1,023 people in one survey, 399 in the other) were asked about their interest in politics, political leanings, and interest in participating in the electoral process in their new country.

He reports the level of interest in politics remains quite consistent for the immigrants. If you’re into politics in your home country, you’ll probably be just as interested in your new land; if you were apathetic there, you’ll likely stay on the sidelines here.

Ideology also remains relatively consistent, with those who voted for right-wing parties in Mexico expressing support for conservative causes in the U.S. The same was true for those on the left. But actual participation in the electoral process is another matter.

“Immigrants who stand at the center and the right end of the ideological spectrum are indeed more likely than their left-leaning counterparts to express interest in participating in American elections, regardless of how many years they have spent in the United States,” Wals writes. “In fact, immigrants who stand on the right end of the continuum have a more than 90 percent chance of engaging in American elections, regardless of how long they have lived in their host country.”

In contrast, he reports, left-leaning immigrants only gradually move into the American political process, and never at the rate of their conservative counterparts. Approximately 52 percent of that sample expressed the intention to vote after living in this country for 10 years. After 17 years, that number increased to 66 percent—still far below the interest level of conservatives.

Wals suspects one reason for this may be that there is no real equivalent in the U.S. to the leftist PRD party in Mexico. Democrats align more with the PRI party, while Republicans are close cousins to the PAN. So those who were loyal to the PRD may find it more difficult to find a party that strongly reflects their beliefs.

Given that fact, and the high engagement level of self-described conservatives, Wals concludes that the Republicans have a real opportunity among these new voters.

“There is no single rationale inherent in the results of this study that the current advantage held by the Democratic Party over the Republican Party, in terms of electoral support among U.S. citizens of Mexican origin, could not be altered,” he writes.

But he then adds the catch: For this to occur, the GOP must “succeed in implementing different strategies and more effective means to reach out and engage this segment of the population.” Such as, say, passing an immigration reform bill.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.


Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.