Ahead of the Senate debate on immigration this week, political science professor and pollster Dr. Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions pens a must-read op-ed for the New York Times, reminding Democrats that leaning in to pro-immigrant policy is both the right thing to do and the politically smart thing to do.
As Barreto notes, “Democrats have an opportunity to speak out strongly against bigotry. And in doing so, they have a path to victory in 2018 and beyond.”
To no one’s surprise, President Trump, who has been doubling down on his anti-immigrant rhetoric, used his State of the Union address to draw parallels between the Central American gang MS-13 and law-abiding immigrants in the United States.
The next week, he reiterated that “MS-13 killers” are “pouring into our country.” This kind of language, long a Trump trademark, was used as a political strategy just a few months ago in Virginia during the failed bid of the Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie. It was also on display in the campaign of Kim Guadagno, a Republican who lost the race to replace Chris Christie as governor of New Jersey.
In their quest to retake the House or the Senate (or both), Democrats should not shy away from incorporating and welcoming immigrants into their own rhetoric. When Republicans embark on mean-spirited immigrant bashing, Democrats should take notes from Harry Reid’s 2010 re-election victory in Nevada and Ralph Northam’s 2017 gubernatorial win in Virginia. Both Mr. Reid and Mr. Northam rebuffed racially charged anti-immigrant campaigns, standing up for Dreamers, and in the process winning over Latino voters alongside a coalition of progressive and moderate college-educated whites.
…In 2016, Nevada proved to be one of the bright spots for Democrats. Mr. Reid’s strategy was embraced by his successor, Catherine Cortez Masto, who became the first Latina elected to the Senate.
…Data speaks louder than punditry, and our regression analysis of survey data paints a clear picture. Exposure to Mr. Gillespie’s MS-13 ads actually helped drive white college-educated voters away from the Republicans. When we analyzed findings for white independents and Republicans, voters who were aware of the MS-13 ads were significantly more likely to vote for Mr. Gillespie’s Democratic opponent. What should be alarming for Republicans is that this effect wasn’t limited to the governor’s race. The Gillespie campaign had coattail effects, but of the wrong stripe. Across all racial groups, those who were aware of Mr. Gillespie’s MS-13 ads were significantly more likely to vote for Democratic candidates for Virginia’s House of Delegates.
This means that not only is it morally just for Democrats to position themselves as the party that stands against hatred and bigotry and in favor of inclusiveness and opportunity, but it is also a strategically sound position for winning votes.
Simultaneously, it sends a clear, welcoming message to Latino, African-American and Asian-American voters, while also winning over enough of the white voters who also oppose immigrant bashing.