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One Election Result Already In: Anti-Immigrant Politics a Big Loser in 2016

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American Public Overwhelmingly Supports Legalization and Rejects Deportation

Trump’s Overt Nativism Actually Driving Up Support For Practical, Humane Policy

Though we are still hours away from the first 2016 polls closing, one result is already in: nativism lost big.

GOP nominee Donald Trump made his hard line anti-immigrant stance a centerpiece of his campaign. In addition to his silly notion that a 14th century wall could properly regulate a 21st century labor migration, his more serious threat was to deport most, if not all, of the 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in America.  While the American people may be divided on many topics, they are overwhelmingly on the same page when it comes to what to do about undocumented immigrants: they support creating a process by which the 11 million can stay in American with legal status and oppose Trump’s idea of mass deportation.

The recent polling evidence is overwhelming:

Pew Research released a poll in late October that finds Americans support a policy that allows undocumented immigrants to stay legally over a policy that does not by a 4:1 margin – a whopping 80-18%. Even Trump backers support legalization over deportation by nearly 2:1.

New York Times/CBS, Quinnipiac, Washington Post/ABC News, CNN and Gallup have all conducted recent polls that have found similar levels of support for legalization, ranging from a high of 88% to a low of 72%.

Even a recent poll from Fox News found that Americans support legalization over deportation by a 74%-18% margin.

During the 2016 primary season, Republican primary exit polls asked the legal status vs. deportation question in 20 states. In 18 of these states more GOP primary voters supported “a chance to apply for legal status” than supported deportation.

As the Washington Post highlighted, Trump’s overt nativism actually is “increasing sympathy for immigrants and depressing support for his harsh enforcement techniques.” For example, of the 11 times Pew has asked the same question over the years, support has never been higher for legalization (80%) and lower for deportation (18%).

In a column in The Week entitled, “Why the Biggest Losers of the 2016 Election Will Be Immigration Hardliners,” Shikha Dalmia takes stock of these findings and explains how nativism and anti-immigrant organizations like the Center for Immigration Studies lost “bigly” in 2016:

“Elections market-test the appeal of ideas. Thanks to Donald Trump, this election is market-testing the idea of anti-immigration restrictionism. And if polling trends hold, this idea will be a big loser on Nov. 8.

Trump has wavered on many things, but not on his obnoxious anti-immigration stance. In fact, as Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh notes, Trump is the “dream candidate” of America’s anti-immigration faction. He took the substance of his platform from the Center for Immigration Studies, among the nation’s chief nativist outfits, and National Review Online — and he boasts the bombastic presentational style of Ann Coulter. CIS’s Mark Krikorian, a regular contributor to NRO, has opined that no other candidate “has as sound and as well thought-through an immigration plan” as Trump. And Coulter, with typical restraint, has called Trump’s plan the “greatest political document since the Magna Carta.”

…Unfortunately for Republicans, this restrictionist warpath is a surefire road to political self-annihilation for two reasons: It is counter to how American public opinion is trending (as I wrote last week), and it alienates Latinos, without whom it is not possible to win, as Mitt Romney learned the hard way in 2012. Indeed, polls conducted last year by Burning Glass Consulting’s Katie Packer, Romney’s political consultant, found that restrictionism yields very small positives for candidates in the primary and very large negatives in the general. How large? A restrictionist candidate loses 24 percent more voters than he attracts in swing states.

Restrictionists have pooh-poohed such suggestions on the theory that there are seven million missing white voters waiting to be tapped by a candidate with the right talent for immigration bashing — at least for the next few election cycles before the rising Latino and other minority populations make whites a demographic plurality.

Trump’s candidacy is shaping up to be a living refutation of that argument.

…NRO and CIS may try and explain away the election results as a repudiation not of their restrictionist message but the ugly messenger. What the GOP needs is a spokesperson who is pro-immigrant but against immigration, as CIS puts it.

But you can’t put a pretty face on restrictionism. You cannot attack immigration as harmful and then embrace immigrants as awesome. Inevitably, some ugly demagogue like Trump will swoop in and expose the others as insincere double-talkers by taking a more consistent position.

The GOP’s choice going forward will be to stick to the intellectually and politically bankrupt nativist path that the casino magnate has put them on, or reverse course completely and return to Ronald Reagan’s sunny view of immigration. There is no middle ground.”