The mainstream media writes a lot of stories that perpetuate the myth that voters of Hispanic ancestry have a "comprehensive immigration reform" litmus test. These stories give the impression that any candidate or party that endorses reductions in legal and/or illegal immigration are doomed to lose Hispanic voters forever. Experts who study this theory disagree. American voters of Hispanic descent have historically voted in larger numbers for Democrats than they have for Republicans. But they are neither as monolithic as the media implies and nor is immigration their primary concern. "Immigration does not rank as a top voting issue for Hispanics," according to the Pew Hispanic Center, which also finds that an equal share of all Hispanics living in the U.S. believe illegal immigration has a negative impact on their lives as those who believe it is a net positive.
None of this has stopped the media from sticking to its template. When the 2010 midterm elections approached, the press echoed predictions that the immigration debate's "harsh rhetoric" would drive Hispanic voters deeper into the arms of Democrats who would presumably pass the "comprehensive immigration reform" litmus test. The predictions were wrong. Hispanics cast ballots for Republican candidates 40 percent of the time. The GOP's 40 percent share in 2010 equaled President Bush's in 2004 when he was widely praised for advocating for "comprehensive immigration reform." So much for the litmus test. Like most American voters, Hispanics cast their votes on a variety of criteria. When the dust settled in 2010, American voters had elected more immigration-reduction candidates (both Republicans and Democrats) than in any election for decades.
Fast forward to 2012 and the mainstream media is once again dusting off its election-year templates and writing about the "harsh rhetoric" that will doom candidates in November. For example, the Associated Press wrote, "immigrant-rights groups and some political watchers say the damage may be irreversible," in the story "Anti-immigration tone alienating Hispanics." The Associated Press went on to write erroneously that "John Kerry won Hispanics by 53 percent to 44 percent for Bush, a Texan who focused heavily on Hispanics." The media frequently credits President Bush's 2004 effort to pass "comprehensive immigration reform" for his strong showing among Hispanics. Indeed, President Bush won an impressive percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004; but it was 40 percent - as the Pew Hispanic Center's analysis of exit polls show - not 44 percent. The Associated Press has its facts wrong.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies' analysis of the Current Population Survey, one out of every five Hispanic citizens wants a full-time job but can't find one (the U-6 unemployment measure). Fifty-two percent of likely Hispanic voters in 2010 told Zogby that they supported immigration enforcement efforts to encourage illegal workers to return to their home countries. Yet only one person in the Associated Press story acknowledges that jobs - not immigration - is the main concern of Hispanic voters. The GOP's director of Hispanic outreach says "[P]oll after poll shows the No. 1 issue for Latinos in this country is going to be how they are going to feed their family."
This shouldn't surprise anyone given the unemployment statistics, but this turns out to be the lone quote of dissent in the AP's story. And that's where the Associated Press fails its readers. The factual error regarding the 2004 election is easily corrected (and hopefully will be) but the problem of stacking voices in a news story to support an unchallenged naive assumption is a larger problem and more difficult to fix.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Wed, Jan 18th 2012 @ 2:57pm EST