As the major networks began calling the election for President Obama, several commentators expressed a sense of relief after a long campaign in which each side attempted to scare the electorate away from the other by making their opponents out to be monsters. The campaign was over and the hard work of governing could resume.
As the night turned to day, however, it became clear that the post-election analysis and reporting was still relying on language more befitting an ugly campaign than the hard work of preparing a nation for a thoughtful and constructive debate on immigration policy.
The prevailing narrative was that Romney actually was a monster - or, at least, that his immigration proposals were monstrous. Romney's "self deportation" proposal was decried as "harsh," "extreme," and "loony" among other things, and according to the narrative this alienated Hispanic voters and cost him the election. This is a popular narrative but it's mostly fiction.
First, the one consistent plank of Romney's immigration platform was mandatory E-Verify to open up the 7 million jobs currently held by illegal aliens and reduce illegal hiring in the future. Is E-Verify the "harsh" position that cost Romney? Doubtful. Every poll shows overwhelming support for mandatory E-Verify (PolitiFact), including an October, 2012, Pulse Opinion Research poll that found 66% of Hispanic voters favoring mandatory E-Verify.
In fact, according to an April, 2012 Quinnipiac poll, voters favored Romney over Obama on immigration 43% to 39%; and independents favored Romney on immigration 48% to 33%. The 2012 election just doesn't look like a referendum on immigration, as important an issue as it is.
But was it important to Hispanic voters and did it change the outcome of the election? A little over a month ago, an NBC Latino/IBOPE Zogby poll found only 5 percent of Hispanics said immigration was their biggest worry and 42 percent said they would vote for a candidate who held different positions on immigration than their own. Different polls have found different results but none found immigration to be the top voting issue for Hispanics.
Between 60-70 percent of Hispanics voted Democratic. That's high but not even close to the record high of 90 percent of Hispanics who went for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. As the liberal blogger, Jamelle Bouie has written, there are significant non-immigration reasons that Hispanics have historically voted for Democratic candidates, including a strong ethnic solidarity and a greater interest in government social programs than some other groups. Thirty percent of Hispanics consider themselves "liberal" or "very liberal" compared with 21 percent of the general public (Pew Hispanic Center).
This helps explain why a majority of Hispanic voters continued to vote for Democratic candidates (including President Clinton who endorsed the Barbara Jordan Commission's recommendations to reduce future immigration by one-third) even after President Reagan signed a blanket amnesty in 1986.
The Republicans clearly have work to do with Hispanic voters, but passing another Reagan-style amnesty won't help.
Bottom line: If immigration reform is really going to happen, the country needs professionals in the media to refrain from the name-calling and instead find common ground. Ironically, many in the press have been busy demonizing one of the few aspects of immigration reform that voters agree on: E-Verify.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, Nov 8th 2012 @ 11:51am EST