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“Lean In and You’ll Win” New Immigration Polling Points Way for Biden and Democrats

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Yesterday, Politico’s Transition Playbook reported, “Biden’s pollster to Dems: Don’t be afraid to talk immigration.” Conducted by John Anzalone, “one of Joe Biden’s main pollsters in 2020,” it points to a Democratic strategy of leaning in on immigration, rather than backing off. Here’s how Politico writes up the Anzalone advice:

“His conclusion: Democrats shouldn’t be scared of talking about immigration. In fact, they may want to talk about it more.

Politicians ‘think of immigration as a sensitive or a wedge issue,’ but that’s wrong, Anazlone told Transition Playbook of his briefing, which included pro-immigrant advocacy groups like FWD.us. ‘Some of this stuff has such incredibly high support and bipartisan support that, quite frankly, politicians kind of lag behind it.’

His poll, conducted last month for the centrist think tank Center Forward, found that 74 percent of likely voters supported legislation that would create an earned path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants known as ‘Dreamers’; those granted temporary protected status; farmworkers; and other essential workers.”

The Anzalone polling deck and key findings are available online at Center Forward’s website here.

Anazolone’s advice mirrors that of Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, who yesterday published a political memo to the Biden administration about the key lessons Team Biden should learn about immigration politics and policy from last Friday’s back and forth over refugee numbers. 

As Sharry wrote, “The immigration debate is not about numbers anchored in fears, it’s about solutions anchored in our values. Step back and you’ll get run over. Lean in and you’ll win.”

The rest of Sharry’s political memo, “Key Takeaways for the Biden White House on Friday’s Refugee Announcements,” includes five strategy recommendations: 

  • The White House needs to stay true to its values and resist right wing framing. President Biden and Democrats embrace refugees and immigrants, and want an immigration system that is humane and orderly. Republicans believe that America admits “too many of the wrong kind,” and want an immigration system that slashes numbers. GOP leaders use the dog whistle of lower numbers to stoke their white grievance base and to pretend their xenophobia is based on policy. The good news is that the Democratic coalition, including Democratic-leaning independents, rejects their “get tough and keep ‘em out” stance in favor of a “fair and humane” approach to immigration. In poll after poll Democrats win big in head-to-heads on these two contrasting frames.
  • Stay the course: confront challenges, embrace values, deliver solutions. During the campaign, Biden’s genius on immigration (as well as on other issues) was that he found  the sweet spot of values and policies that united the fractious Democratic coalition. On immigration, he thrilled the left and center-left with his humane embrace of immigrants and refugees – without alienating the center; and he appealed to more moderate and conservative centrists by promising the immigration system would be lawful and orderly – without alienating the left. This both/and approach is the coalition’s sweet spot. On one of our nation’s most complex issues, Biden won over the multiracial majority that elected him. As a result, nativism as a wedge issue has lost much of its edge.
  • This difference in frames explains why Friday’s initial announcement backfired. The reason the initial refugee announcement upset supporters (and pleased Stephen Miller) is because it spoke to numbers and optics rather than solutions and values. The Democratic coalition wants to welcome refugees through an orderly system. A robust and revitalized refugee admissions program welcomes refugees through an orderly system. Generosity is good. Undoing Trump’s cruelty is good. The announcement however, came off sounding as if fewer is better, and maybe Trump was onto something. This fell on the other side of the line from where the Democratic coalition stands. In contrast, the clarification that came later in the afternoon landed squarely in Democratic turf, and as a result was well-received.
  • Let Biden be Biden: lean in and deliver big. After some initial stumbles, candidate Biden found his voice on immigration. He advocated for solutions rooted in our values. He  ignored the right wing noise about “open borders.” In the last debate, he leaned in, took the fight to Trump over family separation, and promised to fight for a new roadmap to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. His campaign even followed up with an unprecedented pro-immigrant ad campaign. He won. Similarly, in his first press conference, and under pressure from multiple reporter questions, he leaned in. He talked about the humanity of the migrants and refugees. He proposed orderly solutions rooted in our values. He won. The President at his best is bold, leans in, speaks of solutions and values, and promises to solve longstanding challenges.
  • Hold your nerve, resist the reflex to deploy cruelty, and speak to who we want to be. Yes, the right wing media ecosystem and Republican members of Congress are cranking this issue up every day and in every way. Yes, too many in the mainstream media have adopted the right wing framing. Yes, too many are calling the border a crisis when the crisis is in Central America. And yes, too many are making the silly claim that the President’s “messaging” accounts for the increase in arrivals. But no, these tactical challenges need not not overwhelm us. Actually, the opportunity is huge. If the President holds his nerve and resists the reflex to use cruelty to deal with political pressures, he can forge a workable immigration system that is, at once, both orderly and humane. This is what the majority who elected the President support: 1) an America that welcomes immigrants and refugees from every corner of the globe through a safe, regulated and humane system; and 2) legislative breakthroughs that formally recognize deeply-rooted undocumented immigrants as the Americans they already are. Fortunately, we have a President willing and able to deliver the change Americans want.