Immigration Reform’s Big Obstacle: The Important Senate Races Are Very White

Senator Mary Landrieu is up for reelection in Louisiana, which has a 4.5% Hispanic population

Despite some early optimism about immigration reform at the beginning of Obama’s second term, as we have gotten closer to the next election the chance of progress has grown increasingly remote. One of the biggest problems for immigration reform is the shape of the 2014 election. This year the Hispanic vote is simply not very critical to victory in any hotly contested race, which takes away grassroots political pressure for action on immigration.

Democrats winning back the House is extremely unlikely since the GOP has huge structural advantage there, so the big fight will be over the Senate. There Republicans have a chance of picking up enough seats to win the chamber — and almost all of the most competitive races are in overwhelmingly white states.

According to the Cook Political Report the ten Senate seats most likely to switch partisan control this year are: Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.

Only two of these ten states have a lower percentage of white non-Hispanics than the country as a whole, Georgia and Louisiana, but that is mainly because of their large African-American populations.

Most importantly, all ten top Senate contests have significantly fewer Hispanics than the national average. Georgia is the competitive state with the largest share of Hispanics, but even there Hispanics make up only 9.2 percent of the state’s population compared to the national average of 16.9. Interestingly, Georgia is also one of the only two Republican held states Democrats have a chance of winning.

State Hispanic or Latino %
Alaska 6.1
Arkansas 6.8
Georgia 9.2
Kentucky 3.2
Louisiana 4.5
Michigan 4.6
Montana 3.1
North Carolina 8.7
South Dakota 3.1
West Virginia 1.3
Average 5.06

On average Hispanics make up just 5.06 percent of the population in these competitive states. For a comparison that is roughly what the size of the national Hispanic population was back in 1970.

The Senate playing field this year helps both Republicans and Democrats mostly ignore the issue without facing political repercussion. This is a perfect example of how the inherent white bias in the design of your federal elections can impact federal policy.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at