The Right Coast

May 31, 2005
Oh, No! Has the Wall Street Journal Become Impervious to Reason?
By Gail Heriot

Loyal readers may recall a three-part series I wrote a few months ago entitled "Don’t Blame Pete Wilson for Making California a Blue State." (If not, you can read it here, here and here.) In it, I tried to respond to the Wall Street Journal editorialist Brendan Miniter's accusation that former California Governor Pete Wilson had somehow transformed California from a toss-up state into a Democratic stronghold on account of his allegedly anti-immigration agenda.

Evidently what I said failed to get through, since in today’s Political Diary (no link available; it's a subscription service) Mr. Miniter repeats the slur that an anti-immigration agenda "cost Republicans control of California in the 1990s." I did e-mail him earlier. But evidently my message either went unread or was unpersuasive. (A third possibility is that aliens bent on destroying the WSJ’s credibility have entered Mr. Miniter’s body and are purposely causing him to make inappropriate accusations, but I am willing to leave this possibility aside for the moment at least...)

Let me try again.....

1. Pete Wilson’s so-called anti-immigration agenda consists of his strong support of Proposition 187–a 1994 initiative that prohibited the State of California from granting certain state benefits, including welfare benefits, to illegal immigrants. It's worth noting that 187 applied to illegal immigrants only and not to legal immigrants. For the record, I opposed Proposition 187. But I was very much in the minority. Proposition 187 passed overwhelmingly with 59% of the vote in 1994. Any argument that Proposition 187 supporters have been politically damaged as a result of their support for that extraordinarily popular measure should bear an enormous burden of proof.

2. It’s not just that supporters of the "Proposition 187 backlash" theory can’t overcome that burden of proof. They have no evidence of a backlash against Republicans at all. Latinos, for example, the group most likely to resent Proposition 187, do not appear to have changed their voting patterns as a result the 1994 initiative. Indeed Proposition 187 itself got a larger share of the Latino vote (23%) than George H.W. Bush had gotten back in 1992 (14%)(with 71% for Clinton and 15% for Perot and others). In 1996, Latinos gave Dole 22% (and 70% for Clinton, 7% for Perot). In 2000, 23% of California Latinos voted for George W. Bush and 75% voted for Gore. There does appear to have been some improvement in the 2004 election when it is estimated that 31% of the California Latino vote went to Bush and 68% to Kerry.

3. The real explanation for California’s switch from a toss-up state to a reliably Democratic state is far simpler. It’s not California’s immigration policy, it’s immigration itself. As I’ve said before, Pete Wilson could have met each and every immigrant at the border with a bottle of champagne and a brass band and the result would still be the same. Recent immigrants from Latin America and Asia tend to vote Democratic. And there are a lot more of them in California now than there used to be. Hispanics have gone from being 25.83% of the California population in 1990 to 32.38% in 2000. Asians have gone from 9.56% in 1990 to 10.92% in 2000. Non-Hispanics Whites, on the other hand, have decreased in absolute numbers due to out-migration and low birth rates and thus moved from being 57% of the California population in 1990 to only 46.7% in 2000. Again, there is no evidence that these individuals when they become voters are any more Democratic-leaning than they've ever been; the difference is only that there are more such voters than there used to be in the California electorate. And that difference is huge; it dwarfs any possible effect that Proposition 187 could be imagined to have.

4. The Left is full of folks who hate to let facts get in the way of their political fantasy world But I’d like to keep the feet of my fellow conservatives as close to the ground as possible. It’s fine to be pro-immigration. I’m moderately pro-immigration myself. But it’s important to at least recognize that it has its costs. Among those costs for Republicans is the fact that recent immigrants tend to vote for Democrats. At some point, that will cause a state (like California) to go from being politically contested to reliably Democratic at least in the Presidential election. ((In statewide elections, Schwarzenegger proved that a Republican can still win under certain circumstances, but Schwarzenegger is a special case for a lot of reasons, so it's not clear yet what those circumstances are.))

Does any of this mean that the immigrant vote should be conceded by the GOP? Of course not. It should (and must) fight for every vote it can get. But it’s important to be realistic and recognize that only so much progress can be made in the short run. It is only in the long run that one can move a lot of votes from one party to another.

5. Recent evidence on Asians voting patterns further confirms that immigrants from Asia tend to vote Democratic. A recent exit poll of 11,000 Asian voters (82% of them immigrants) in eight states east of the Mississippi showed that they went for Kerry over Bush 74% to 24%. This is obviously not the result of Proposition 187, since the polls didn’t even include California. ((The poll–conducted for the liberal Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund–may nevertheless have overstated the Asian preference for Kerry. An L.A. Times national exit polls found Bush carrying 34% of the Asian vote. Either way Bush was trounced.))

6. I’ve been trying to figure out what might inspire Mr. Miniter to believe in the Proposition 187 backlash myth and I wonder if maybe somebody once showed him statistics on state by state Latino voting patterns. If so, they would probably show California Latinos leaning more Democratic than Latinos in many other states. From this, he might conclude that Proposition 187 was to blame. But again, demographics are the real explanation. Other states have more Cubans in their Latino electorate than California does. Cubans are more likely to vote for the party that they regard as the more anti-communist. That ordinarily is the GOP. Similarly, among Asian voters, Vietnamese voters, especially those with memories of the fall of Saigon, tend to vote in higher proportions for the GOP than other Asian voters. How a state's Asian electorate will vote will thus depend in part on the proportion of Vietnamese voters in the group.