Path to 218: Why one political scientist is skeptical the House will get the votes to pass immigration reform

Jim Avila, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
Path to 218: Why one political scientist is skeptical the House will get the votes to pass immigration reform

Power Players

What are the chances that the House of Representatives will pass comprehensive immigration reform?

Political scientist Tom Wong has been taking a scientific approach to answering that very question, tallying votes and crunching numbers to forecast the potential outcomes, and tells Power Players he’s “skeptical” the House will follow the Senate’s lead and pass a comprehensive bill.

Based on his own vote tally, Wong says there are 203 solid ‘yes’ votes in the House and an additional 11 votes that are likely but not guaranteed.

“If we take that 203 number, add 11 more we're at 214, and we need 218 for a majority, so this ends up being a game of inches,” says the assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego. “It could go either way in the House.”

The 11 votes that Wong has designated as maybe votes are for representatives who are facing tight reelection races in 2014.

Wong says more than 60 percent of congressional districts are not racially diverse, with white populations making up more than 80 percent of those districts.

“If we just make these broad assumptions that immigration reform is going to benefit communities of color and we have a lot of representatives who don't have large communities of color in their district, then a ‘no’ vote may actually reflect the preferences of one's constituency,” Wong says.

Wong has a track record of success in his approach to vote counting, which takes into account complex profiles for each member of Congress. As far back as March, his models predicted that the Senate would get 67 ‘yes’ votes — and the final tally of the Senate’s vote came out to 68.

Wong says “there’s a lot of pessimism right now” that the Republican-run House may decide not to consider the Senate’s bill at all and instead choose to address immigration reform in smaller pieces.

“If it goes through this piecemeal approach, the dynamics completely change and the models point to a predictable outcome,” Wong says, adding that such an approach would likely lead to increased border security and a solid defeat of a path to citizenship.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, will lead a special meeting with House Republicans on Wednesday to discuss how the party will approach immigration reform.

For more of the interview with Wong, and to learn about his method for mapping votes, check out this episode of Power Players.

ABC's Eric Wray, Matt Larotonda, Serena Marshall, Alexandra Dukakis, Tom D'Annibale and Ed Jennings contributed to this episode.