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GOP decline linked to immigration rise

Feb 22, 2010

Washington, Feb 22, 2010 - As immigrants surged into Orange County in the last two decades, the number of Republicans voting in one of the state's most conservative regions dropped by nearly 18 percent – to just over 50 percent, according to a report by the Center for Immigration Studies.

The correlation between increased immigration and what the study called the Republican "demise" mirrors a nationwide trend in counties, according to the report released Friday by an anti-illegal immigration group, which seeks to curb overall immigration.

In Orange County, the percent of Republicans voting in presidential elctions dropped from 67.9 percent to 50.2 percent from 1980 to 2008 elections. At the same time, the percentage of the foreign-born population increased by about 20 percent in the county, according to James Gimpel, who wrote "Immigration, Political Realignment, and the Demise of Republican Political Prospects."

Orange County has also seen a drop in Republican voter registration in the last few decades. The GOP fell below having 50 percent of the county's registered voters in 1999 and slipped to 45.5 percent in 2008.

By comparison, Los Angeles County saw a larger drop in Republicans voting in the last few elections than Orange County, according to the study. As the foreign-born population in Los Angeles County ballooned by nearly 19 percent, voting Republicans dropped from 50.2% in 1980 to 28.8% in 2008 elections.

Gimpel, a government professor at the University of Maryland, said the term "immigrant" is used in the study to describe both legal immigrants and those who are in the country illegally.

"There is an irony in that even though the Republican electorate has been undermined over time by this immigration flow, they do have a business constituency which seems committed to keeping it wide open," Gimpel said. "There are a lot of influential donors who are in the business community who have influence over the GOP's policy making in this area and they benefit from this flow of immigrants."

Gimpel based his report on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and American Community Survey. The survey asks respondents whether they are foreign-born. However, neither survey asks respondents whether they are in the country legally.

A good portion of the foreign-born are from Mexico or other parts of Latin America, Gimpel added.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, says he's not worried about the decline, saying that legal immigrants will eventually find their way into the GOP.

"I see a lot of new citizens in the Republican ranks," Rohrabacher said. "I think that people who come here legally are all potential Republicans because they have a love in their heart for America that has brought them to our country and eventually those people will opt for limited government and American freedom."

Gimpel agreed with Rohrabacher that the decline is temporary.

However, he said immigrants tend to associate themselves more with the Democratic Party because of where they end up -- in larger, more urban areas that are already Democratic strongholds.

State Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, has a different take.

Correa, whose district is made up by a good portion of foreign-born people, says the tide turned for Republicans with Governor Pete Wilson's election and his push for Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that would have denied public services, such as education, to people in the country illegally.

"The election of 1994 really shifted the way Latinos looked at politics and looked at voting. That was a big wedge," Correa said. "I believe that awakened a lot of the community. The community really woke up."

For a long time, Democrats had pushed for Latino votes and participation in the electorate.

"None were as successful as Gov. Wilson and his Proposition 187,'' Correa said. "That really energized them to vote and associate themselves with the Democratic Party."
Original article: OC Register