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New America’s Voice Report on 2022 Midterms: “The GOP Investment in Nativism Failed to Deliver, Again”

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Read the new AV political report HERE

Washington, DC – A new report from America’s Voice analyzes the GOP’s messaging strategy of demonizing immigrants during the 2022 midterms failed to deliver at the ballot box in November. “The GOP Investment in Nativism Failed to Deliver, Again: America’s Voice Report on Nativist Political Messaging and Ads in the 2022 Midterms” looks at how Republicans’ relentless emphasis on anti-immigrant attacks was a poor strategic decision that did not produce the promised key electoral victories.

To read the report in its entirety, click here.

According to Zachary Mueller, Political Director at America’s Voice:

“The GOP’s embrace of nativism, anti-immigrant fear mongering and dangerous conspiracies during the 2022 midterms spoke to the radicalized MAGA base, but alienated the majority of the electorate and contributed to their underperformance in the midterms. Following yet another failed investment into nativism, the leading wing of the Republican Party appears to be learning the exact wrong lesson from the election, doubling down on their distorted and dangerous border narratives. But despite the losses, the incentives inside the GOP have only moved further towards extremism. Regardless of its effects on the country or their general election prospects, the nativist extremism is now a core organizing principle of the GOP.

For Democrats and pundits, however, the results of the midterms should further dispel the perceived presumptive advantage Republicans have on the issue. The GOP’s nativism isn’t the winner they have convinced themselves it to be.”

Below are key excerpts from the new AV report:

  1. Republicans made a massive investment into a nativist electoral strategy, and it failed to deliver. Even before Biden was sworn in, Republicans launched an “open borders” attack, spending the first few months of 2021 building a “Biden Border Crisis” narrative and the next year and a half relentlessly driving the attack line. Clearly spending tens of millions of dollars, if not more, on anti-immigrant attack ads, the GOP made a serious investment in this narrative. America’s Voice ad tracking project found 3,200 different paid communications from Republicans and their allies from this cycle that employed anti-immigrant attacks, including over 600 “open borders” attacks and over 600 that falsely equate migrants with the illicit drug trade. Throughout the cycle, they kept their nativist narrative a top messaging priority. While the issue worked for their base, outside of it, voters were largely unconvinced. The nativist strategy is not solely responsible for Republicans’ lackluster showing, but because there was such a significant investment behind the strategy and it failed to deliver, it should shoulder a great deal of blame. 
  2. Republican competition for the loyalty of their nativist base was a driver of the extremism voters rejected at the ballot box, particularly during primaries. Republican candidates across the country waged ad wars as they competed to prove they were the true nativist in the race. Pushing each other further to the extremes on the issue, many, including the third-ranking House Republican Elise Stefanik, adopted white nationalist talking points and conspiracies. This escalating rhetoric demagoguing migrants helped lead to either extreme general election candidates or candidates who took extreme positions. While not the sole cause of MAGA extremism in the general, nativism nevertheless played a critical role in the primaries. Driven by Stephen Miller and others, this MAGA extremism drove straight through the general election and failed at the ballot box. America’s Voice identified over twenty battleground races where MAGA extremist candidates lost. And an America’s Voice analysis found that by adopting a MAGA extremist persona, Stefanik saw a 78 percent loss rate among the 36 battleground House candidates she endorsed. 
  3. Republicans embraced white nationalist invasion and replacement conspiracy as an organizing principle courting more political violence. America’s Voice ad tracking project found well over 700 examples of Republicans employing versions of the deadly lies about a so-called migrant invasion and white replacement. Republicans were echoing the same deadly white nationalist conspiracy theories as domestic terrorists – like the shooters in Buffalo and El Paso – and a leading Republican activist called for adopting this conspiracy as a litmus test for Republican candidates at the CPAC conference at the beginning of 2022. The threat emanating from adopting this lie comes as it both courts more deadly political violence and reinforces their election lies undermining American democracy. However, the 2022 midterms marked the ascent of this destabilizing conspiracy into the mainstream of the Republican party. 
  4. Despite the GOP’s relentless demagoguery about immigrants and the border, voters are still largely pro-immigrant and prefer common-sense reforms. The 2022 Midterm Election Voter Poll surveyed more than 12,200 Americans who voted in the 2022 elections and found persistent strong majorities who hold pro-immigrant positions. The poll found: 68-32% support for citizenship for Dreamers; 63-37% support for legal status and citizenship for undocumented immigrants; 57-43% support for a balanced approach to immigration policy instead of the “enforcement and border-first” approach; and by a 60-40% margin, voters support candidates who favor access to asylum.  And while the midterms were largely decided on issues other than immigration, voters in Arizona and Massachusetts also approved common-sense reforms for their undocumented neighbors where they were on the ballot this cycle.
  5. Looking forward, Republicans have failed to learn the lessons of the 2022 midterms and continue to double down. In spite of repeated losses over the last several election cycles where GOP nativism was a centerpiece of their strategy, Republicans doubled down in the immediate weeks following the election and up to now. Texas Governor Greg Abbott officially declared an “invasion” just a week after the election. With their new majority, House Republicans put forward two extreme anti-immigrant bills not meant as serious policy proposals but as political setups. House Republicans are also pushing what will surely be a long dragged out nativist political theater around DHS Secretary Mayorkas and the border. And the leading cheerleader for an aggressive nativist election strategy, Stephen Miller, is still welcomed as a sought-after strategist in the party. While the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is already attacking 2024 Senate Democrats with the exact same attack ads. The analysis of the 2022 midterms looks to be more of a blueprint for what to expect from the GOP in 2024.

“Republicans across the country, up and down the ticket, throughout the primaries into the general, made a nativist narrative a top messaging priority. Their strategists were convinced that ceaseless demagoguery about the U.S. southern border would be critical in delivering the red wave. But once the votes were counted, it was clear Republicans wildly underperformed.

…Baseless anti-immigrant attacks were not a new addition to the 2022 midterms, Republicans have run versions of these attacks for many years prior. However, the radicalizing effect of the escalating call-and-response from the GOP base and leading Republicans tipped over into dangerous extremism. The GOP adopted the once-fringe white nationalist conspiracy about a non-white migrant invasion and fears of white replacement as an organizing principle. Echoing the rhetoric of domestic terrorists became a regular occurrence for top Republicans and their supporters with the biggest megaphones over the last two years. Even after another white nationalist terrorist murdered 10 Americans in Buffalo, New York, in May 2022 who peddled the invasion and replacement lie, the leaders of the Republican Party either loudly doubled down or publicly turned a blind eye.

Republican strategists were convinced that ceaseless attacks about the U.S. southern border and their nativist narrative with all its dangerous dehumanization, would be critical in delivering a red wave in November. But they were wrong. The overwhelming conventional wisdom said the 2022 midterm should have been a banner year for Republicans. Instead, Democrats picked up a seat in the Senate and Republicans were only able to net 13 seats in the House for the slimmest majority.”