DREAM Lite Reaction

Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics (a conservative numbers-cruncher whom I greatly respect) says he doesn’t quite get Obama’s DREAM Lite gambit last week. After all, only three swing states have “significant” (which he defines as over 10%) Hispanic populations, and one of those is Cuban-heavy Florida, so we’re really just talking Nevada and Colorado, who only have 15 lousy EVs, and Obama’s real problem is with white voters who don’t like liberalized immigration policies.

Trende’s depiction of DREAM Lite as at best a wash for Obama may be more than a little off, per the first national poll measuring reaction, from Bloomberg:

Sixty-four percent of likely voters surveyed after Obama’s June 15 announcement said they agreed with the policy, while 30 percent said they disagreed. Independents backed the decision by better than a two-to-one margin.

Only self-identified Republicans bucked the trend, opposing DREAM Lite by a 36-56 margin.

Getting back to Trende’s dismissal of the issue, his 10% Hispanic voter threshold for considering these voters “significant” in swing states is questionable. For example: 5% of Virginia voters in 2008 were Hispanic; the percentage may well have gone up since then. It’s a state most analysts think Romney must win. If it’s very close, then yes, a swing or turnout variation among Virginia Hispanics could matter. As for Florida, yes, Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans, two groups not terribly interested in the immigration issue, make up an estimated 60% of the state’s Hispanic eligible voters. But of the rest, a growing percentage are from South or Central America or Mexico. Again, if Florida’s close, the issue could matter a great deal.

As for the downside of Obama’s DREAM Lite gambit–I don’t much see it. He was already on record supporting the full DREAM Act; all his action last week did was to preempt what was about to become the Republican alternative. As the Bloomberg poll shows, opposition is concentrated among voters Obama’s not getting anyway.

I’m not saying Obama’s action was necessarily a game-changer. But on the strategic chessboard, it undoubtedly checked a Republican move to chip into a key swing constituency where Obama was vulnerable, at what seems to be an acceptably low cost or risk. As for the impact on swing states, as always, it depends on how close things get. All together now: a vote’s a vote!

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.