Obama's panicky pander on immigration

The establishment media will tell you Obama’s new non-enforcement of immigration law is a political masterstroke. “It’s a trap! for Republicans, it is written. A flash poll proclaims it’s overwhelmingly popular with likely voters. The WaPo’s Aaron Blake, while adding more nuance than most along the way, stresses the conventional wisdom:

President Obama’s announcement Friday that he would stop the deportation of some 800,000 young illegal immigrants who were brought to this country by their parents isn’t likely to increase his share of the Latino vote much.

But there is still plenty for him to gain: turnout and enthusiasm in a community in which both are severely lacking.


And initially at least, it looks as if his announcement Friday has done some good.

A new Latino Decisions poll of Hispanic voters in five key states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia) shows 49 percent say his announcement makes them more enthusiastic about him, versus 14 percent who say it makes them less enthusiastic.

Any polling done so closely to a major decision is likely to exaggerate the bump to some degree, but it’s certainly helpful for Obama (no less because Republicans are tripping over themselves in search of a response).

Although Obama’s announcement is undoubtedly part of a campaign strategy of pandering to and mobilizing the Democratic party’s clients, the conventional wisdom is likely wrong.

As RCP’s Sean Trende explains, Latinos are underrepresented in swing states and after accounting for Florida’s idiosyncratic Cuban Latinos, we are really only talking about Colorado and Nevada. The Guardian’s Harry J. Enten crunched numbers for the states mentioned in the Latino Decisions poll, confirming that Colorado and Nevada are the key states. Enten looked at a better-than-best-case scenario for Team Obama. Noting that in 2008, only 50% of eligible Latinos voted, compared with 64% of the overall population, Enten calculated the gain for Obama if he had registered and turned out Latinos at the 64% rate. He found Obama would have gained only 0.64% in Colorado and a mere 0.37% in Nevada.

Moreover, Enten notes that the GOP candidate would actually win some of those votes and scholars think Latinos will make up the same percentage (or less) of the electorate as they did in 2008. In addition, Trende observes that Obama’s decision potentially alienates other voters. In short, the likelihood that Obama significantly benefits from the new immigration policy is slim at best.

But what about the polls showing how popular the policy is? Here, the establishment is ignoring the concept of intensity (as it often does). As Enten notes, Latinos are more concerned about the economy than immigration, just like everyone else. He later quipped on Twitter:


Moreover, I tend to agree with Ed Morrissey that — especially given the very marginal possible benefit — they “fired this gun too early.” Why? Ed implied that Team Obama is getting panicky about Romney’s campaign. In particular, I would note it may have been intended in part to preempt Romney’s Thursday speech before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Florida. Others have speculated it was intended to blunt the impact of an anticipated Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s immigration law. And perhaps one factor might be Team Obama’s desire to give the media a story about their stumbling candidate going on offense. But the reality is that Obama’s latest pander is neither a masterstroke nor going on offense.