Yes, Bryanna, Democrats Are Better on Immigration!
February 02, 2007, 02:46 AM
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Bryanna Bevens' recent article on whether the Democrats or Republicans were "better" on immigration was pretty dang subjective. In reality, we can measure this issue - at least for many of the candidates. We have market measures of the odds of the major candidates getting the nomination, getting the presidency courtesy of Intrade (a betting market based in Ireland where such bets are legal).

For the Republicans, these numbers work out to:

CandidateOdds of nominationOdds of WinGrade
McCain38.315.5D-
Giuliani18.610.6
Romney16.87.6
Allen0.70.3
Another Republican25.68.7
There are dark horse candidates with a shot at the nomination, but they all have equally abysmal records except for a few real dark horses like Paul, Hunter and Tancredo.

CandidateOdds of nominationGrade
Huckabee4.6
Gingrich4.0 D
Rice2.1
Hagel5.6D-
Paul0.2 B
Hunter 0.6A+
Cheney1.0
Tancredo0.3A+

The markets suggest that the chance of the GOP nominating anyone with a record on immigration a B or above is less than 2%. Frankly, I would suggest that Paul, Hunter and Tancredo work out some kind of deal so they don't divide their considerable volunteer forces - and more limited funds.

(Personally, I find it hard to "love" Hunter, a candidate who has traded my livelihood for political donations-which is what H-1b expansion amounts to. Both Hunter and Tancredo have less than perfect recent records on the issue of guest worker visa expansion.)

For the Democrat the numbers work out to:

CandidateOdds of nominationOdds of winGrade
Obama18.812.0D
Warner0.50.1
Clinton46.723.8D
Edwards15.27.8D
Gore10.24.0A-
Another Democrat8.67.6

What is striking here:

1) The markets suggest that if the Democrats reach outside their major frontrunners, their chance at the presidency is extremely good. (One candidate who for whom there exist no quoted odds of getting the presidency is James Webb, who is put at having a 5% chance of getting the nomination). Webb isn't explicitly anti-immigration - but I find it hard to understand how he will achieve "economic fairness" in the US while exposing US labor markets to a grossly unfair world economy. Webb won his senate seat in large part by opposing the H-1b lobbyist, Harris Miller.

2) The Democrats have a much better chance of choosing someone with a realistic record on immigration-notably Al Gore-than the Republicans.

Now, I don't know where Al Gore's heart is on immigration. I suspect he's a old fashion Green of the Paul Ehrlich variety with some concern about global population issues. I don't personally like Al Gore's stand on trade. His tax policies are interesting - but lack enough protections to assure they are distributionally neutral. I'm also not sure how Gore would have voted on H-1b expansion had he been in the Senate or House when those votes were taken. However, for folks seriously concerned about immigration issues, Gore is the only major candidate with any track record.

Webb doesn't yet have any track record voting on immigration yet- - but he doesn't have a lot of baggage yet either. So at least with the Democrats we have a 15% chance or so of having some voice of sanity on the immigration issue assuming the party's mantle in 2008. Those aren't great odds. But they better than what we have in the case of the GOP.

So the answer to the question of which party is better on immigration: In terms of presidential choices, there is every indication it is at this point the Democrats—not so much by leadership, but by default.

The GOP has always been a highly centrally controlled organization. What the rank and file wants has very little connection to the policies the GOP will promote. Sometimes that has some serious political advantages (it is probably why the GOP has had few serious presidential defeats compared to the Democrats).

Admittedly, I am a progressive. But I do care about the immigration issue. And for immigration activists, I would suggest their chances of getting a real voice in politics is much better in the chaotic structure of the Democratic party.