November 21, 2022


The Diminishing Returns of Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric: A majority of voters want balanced solutions. (ALAN CROSS  NOVEMBER 17, 2022, The Bulwark)

Since 2014, conventional wisdom for many on the right has been that stoking fears of immigrants and refugees is a winning strategy. That year, Eric Cantor, the GOP House majority leader, experienced a shocking primary loss to David Brat; Tea Party opposition to immigration reform was an important factor in Cantor's loss, and the new hardline stance Brat advocated would become Republican writ following Donald Trump's successful, openly nationalist--at times, even nativist--campaign for the presidency in 2016. Republicans have since assumed that making overt appeals to anti-immigrant sentiment and fear of white replacement--concerns party operatives take to be widespread among voters but kept under wraps for fear of censure--would not only secure primary victories among the base, but also win the party control of Congress and the White House.

How has that worked out for them? Well, after Trump won in 2016, he spent two years calling for limits to legal immigration, invoking travel bans, and implementing a de facto family separation policy at the border. The 2018 midterms were, in part, a referendum on America's immigration policies, especially after Trump made migrant caravans his messaging focus in the run-up to the election. But after Democrats gained 41 seats and took control of the House that year, Trump dropped the dropped the caravans issue, and it soon fell out of the news.

By 2020, Trump's anti-immigrant emphasis was fading, and as it became less of a priority for him, it also became less of a concern for voters. While 70 percent of registered voters polled in 2016 said that immigration was a top concern going into the election, only 65 percent said so in 2018, and by 2020, that number had dropped to 52 percent. The Trump campaign still talked about immigration negatively as he ran for re-election, but by then he had shifted his rhetorical emphasis more to law and order. But the sentiment was locked in and people remembered. He lost the presidency and Democrats held the House and won control of the Senate, giving them a governing trifecta.

This year's midterms arrived following the admission to the United States of tens of thousands of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, and in the midst of a COVID-related buildup of asylum seekers and higher than normal numbers of border encounters. Even so, immigration has remained a relatively low-priority issue for American voters, at least from a negative sense, with only 54 percent rating it as an issue of major concern in Pew's pre-election poll. (This was the first year since Trump's 2016 win that the issue did not make the top ten in Pew's poll.) Some on the right tried to make the border situation a major campaign focus, but the issue just didn't resonate negatively with voters in the same way it appeared to during Trump's original campaign. In the news networks' exit polling, 10 percent of respondents said immigration was the most important issue for them, ranking just below gun policy and crime, and far below abortion and inflation. (Of that 10 percent of voters who prioritized immigration, about three quarters were Republicans and one quarter were Democrats.)

Years of negative rhetoric aimed at immigrants and refugees hasn't changed the public's positive perception of them: Polls consistently show over 70 percent of Americans believing that immigration is a good thing for the United States. 

It is the aesthetics of people sneaking over the border that upsets people, demonstrating that government can't control events, an illusion they require.  Admit immigrants freely at designated sites where they can be processed in an orderly fashion.

Posted by at November 21, 2022 12:03 AM