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Forecast: If Vote Was Today, Immigration Reform Would Fail House

Above: Tom Wong works in his favorite coffee shop in San Diego's North Park neighborhood.

Aired 6/4/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Tom Wong, Assistant Professor Political Science, UC San Diego



Aired 5/23/13

According to one academic, if voted upon today, the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill would fail by 15 votes in the House. But this academic is using his data with the hope of changing the bill's fate.

— In 2012, statistician Nate Silver made headlines when he accurately predicted the outcomes for the presidential election in all 50 states.

While political scientists have been forecasting election results for decades, very few forecast legislation. But in San Diego, one assistant professor is doing just that. He’s forecasting the outcome for immigration reform.

Most days, you can find Tom Wong inside a boutique coffee shop in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, hunched over a Macbook Pro.

The assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego is crunching thousands of numbers.

“I’m predicting opposition and support for immigration reform among all 535 current members of congress," Wong said.

How Does It Work?

His forecast is created in three steps. The first is a model that determines what factors create a 'yes' or 'no' vote on immigration.

It begins in 2006. That was the year millions of immigration advocates protested in the streets across the United States, rallying against H.R. 4437, an enforcement-heavy immigration bill.

Many cite these demonstrations as the starting point for the modern immigration movement.

In step one, Wong counts every vote cast by every member of Congress on immigration since 2006. Then he pulls a ton of data — unemployment rates, education levels, ethnic makeup — from states and districts.

Wong explains his model is taking into account "the factors that previous research has identified as being important for immigration policy."

He uses that information to create a model that predicts how a member of Congress will vote based on what their state or district looks like.

Step two is seeing if his model is accurate.

The eight Representatives who gathered last week in opposition to CIR are listed in Figure 1. As the figure shows, the representatives are correctly predicted as “solid no” votes. The predicted probabilities range from a low of .07, which means a 7 percent chance of voting 'yes' on CIR to .24, which means a 24 percent chance of voting 'yes.' Credit: Tom Wong

Wong looks at each member of Congress since 2006 to see whether his model accurately predicted how they actually voted on immigration bills.

"In the House we’re talking about a 94 percent match rate. And the Senate we get about 90 percent," said Wong.

Step three is using the model as a predictor. For example, how will freshmen members of Congress vote, someone like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)?

"His state has certain demographic characteristics, certain economic characteristics and he’s a Republican," explains Wong.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the model predicts Cruz will be voting against the bill. But what about the rest of the Senate and members of the House?

"Right now the data points to 67 to 71 'yes' votes in the Senate. For the House we’re only seeing about 203 'yes' votes," Wong said.

So if voted on today, according to Wong's model, the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill would fail by 15 votes in the House.

But, Wong wants immigration reform to pass.

Seeking Change

"My own immigration experience gives me this window into the data where the results are more than just numbers, because I see the families and the people that can potentially benefit," he said.

When Wong was 16 years old he learned that he and his family had overstayed their tourist visas from Hong Kong. They were living here illegally.

Although they have since become legal residents, that moment is always with him.

"It is very easy for me to simply close my eyes and feel exactly how I felt as my 16-year-old self," Wong said.

It’s a feeling that he believes is shared among many of the young immigrants who are rapidly changing the demographics of districts across the United States.

Wong is using his model to help pro-immigration reform activists locate Congress members who are poised to vote 'no.' But are in positions where they should be voting 'yes.'

Photo by John Rosman

One of Wong's graphes displaying opposition and support for the Gang of Eight's immigration bill.

He uses Rep Gary Miller (R-Calif.) as an example.

"Based on the data Gary Miller will vote 'no' on immigration reform," Wong said.

Miller’s voting records show’s him as a staunch opponent of immigration reform. But Wong’s model points to Miller as a candidate whose stance can, and perhaps should, change.

In 2012, Miller ran and won election in a newly formed California district in San Bernardino County. It is made up of young minority voters, and his next election is rapidly approaching.

"The young Hispanic/Latino and the young Asian population — meaning those that will turn actually 18 and become voters — will exceed Gary Miller’s 2012 margin of victory," Wong explains.

He believes there are enough representatives in the House like Miller, who if presented with these statistics, could change their vote and change the current fate of immigration reform.

You can follow Tom Wong as he updates his data and changes model as the immigration debate conitinues. Check out the CIR 2013 Blog

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Avatar for user 'Alex_Grebenshchikov'

Alex_Grebenshchikov | May 23, 2013 at 9:32 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

A positive forecast!

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Avatar for user 'bailarin'

bailarin | May 23, 2013 at 9:38 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

I was at a VA Regional office waiting room with another veteran who was complaining about the benefits undocumented aliens are receiving. I asked him if he knows what President Reagan did while in office to the undocumented alien problem. His reply was "he sent them back?". I had to refrain from laughing when I told him that Reagan legalized the undocumented aliens. That action attracted more of them to come. Now Obama would like to do the same which will attract more illegals knowing full well that they will eventually be given amnesty. Funny how these politicians always use the word reform.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act enacted November6, 1986, the act in brief:
- required employers to attest to their employees' immigration status.
- made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit unauthorized immigrants.
- legalized certain seasonal agricultural illegal immigrants.
- legalized illegal immigrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982 and had resided there continuously with the penalty of a fine, back taxes due, and admission of guilt. About three million illegal immigrants were granted legal status.
The undocumented is not our only problem. Do you know about the H1-B visa program passed by the U.S. Congress? This program allows Corporate America to hire foreign high-tech professionals if they cannot find qualified American high-tech workers. In Corporate America lingo, "Qualified" means someone willing to accept lower wages. If you look at the parking lots of Fortune 500 high-tech companies you will see hundreds if not thousand of Asian Indian engineers and programmers on H1-B visa. I know people who have been warned by their bosses that with the pay they are making they can be replaced by three or more Asian Indians.

Another visa program that takes away jobs from young Americans is the J1 visa program. This program provides seasonal foreign workers to fast food restaurants, ski resorts and theme parks. This is one of the major reasons for the very high unemployment of young adults.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 23, 2013 at 11:03 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

I would take it back to 2001 and the reactions to Arab-Americans and any American of the Muslim faith by the Federal Government.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 23, 2013 at 11:05 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

BAILARINA, obviously you still have much research to do, the undocumented is not the problem, rather the socio-economic push-pull factors. Yeah, I know that sounds complicated for you.

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Avatar for user 'Alex_Grebenshchikov'

Alex_Grebenshchikov | May 23, 2013 at 2:03 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

missaccomplished, tisk tisk, that last comment was a tad unkind. The illegal immigrants did break the law. If there was a group of underprivileged people in San Diego who went around and stole a bunch of cars out of necessity, i.e., they really needed the cars to be able to drive to work etc. and provide for their families, they would still be criminals regardless of the motive for their crime. Now, if many years had passed, so that their families really got used to having the cars that they stole, and perhaps even their children grew up with the cars never knowing they were stolen, would it be just to stop calling them criminals and let them keep the cars since they had them in their possession for so long? What if the economy relied on these people's labor, and their stolen cars to bring them to work? The economic loss from the initial theft of the cars would still not be recovered, and it is highly likely that other underprivileged people around the city would be inclined to steal cars as well after seeing how well it worked out for those who were forgiven for their crimes without consequence. If we are trying to build the ideal state, which is what politics and economics is all about, is it better to be just or unjust? If you believe it is better to be just, then you know that there cannot be justice if there are no consequences for wrongs committed.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 23, 2013 at 2:47 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

Bailarin while I agree with the beginning of your post, the last part is a matter of the free market. If two people can do the exact same job, why pay someone more? As a business owner, I would certainly, absolutely hire the one who required less pay.

People in American who are demanding higher wages need to come to the realization that their labor is not worth as much as they seem to think it is. This is a global era, and the labor pool is also global. Sorry, but now there are tens of millions more highly skilled workers available for hire around the world whether we like it or not.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 23, 2013 at 4:11 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago


Very well said. I'm interested to see Mission's response to your post.

Interesting that Tom Wong of UCSD is spending public dollars to lobby congressmen rather than teaching students.

Also, I'm quite dismayed by Wong's racial nepotism. He suggests that only whites are opposed to the amnesty bill and that it is largely a conflict of racial ideology.

Actually, it is about economics, democracy, and the rule of law. If the pro-amnesty side wins, we all lose.

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