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Polling Drives Seachange in Conventional Wisdom: Immigration Shifts from “Third Rail” to “Moves the Needle”

 

New data from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Cook Political Report find that the immigration issue helps Democrats and hurts Trump with 2020 swing voters. Kaiser and Cook find immigration as among the top issues that move swing voters — yes, swing voters —  towards Democrats. This is yet another data point indicating that the old conventional wisdom on immigration is, well, old. Once described by Rahm Emanuel as the “third rail” of American politics, immigration is now emerging as a winner for Democrats.

The Kaiser/Cook findings on swing voters:

Many factors could influence voters’ decisions to either vote for President Trump or the Democratic nominee or even stay home on Election Day. This analysis finds issues like climate change, health care, immigration, or the economy could influence swing voters’ vote choice in 2020. Democrats may have the edge on three issues among swing voters: climate change (38 percentage point advantage), health care (18 percentage points), and immigration (10 percentage points) while President Trump, on the other hand, may have the edge on the economy (12 percentage points). As the 2020 presidential campaign continues, this data indicates that Democrats may benefit more when the focus is on climate change, health care, and immigration, while President Trump may have the advantage on the economy among this group of swing voters.

As Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent pointed out in his analysis of Wisconsin polling data this week, even in a rural white state in the midwest, immigration has become a liability for Trump and the Republicans and a potent issue for Democrats.

[A] new Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin — the gold standard in the state’s polls — shows that voters there are actually growing more tolerant of immigration and racial and ethnic diversity, even as a plurality of voters oppose Trump’s tariffs.

On immigration, the poll finds that 65 percent of Wisconsin voters think “having an increasing number of people of many different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in the United States makes this country a better place to live.” By contrast, 27 percent say those things make no difference (and only 4 percent say they make the United States worse).

In her New York Times column entitled, Dare We Dream of the End of the G.O.P.? Michelle Goldberg describes the evolution of pollster Stanley Greenberg, who now predicts a blue tidal wave in 2020. Once a skeptic who “used to ‘shudder’ at the ‘Emerging Democratic Majority’ analysis, he sees it differently now: 

In his polling and focus groups, he’s seeing that the reaction to Trump is changing people. ‘The Trump presidency so invaded the public’s consciousness that it was hard to talk to previously disengaged and unregistered unmarried women, people of color and millennials without them going right to Trump,’ he writes….

That resolve to resist has led many voters to define their own beliefs in opposition to Trump’s. On immigration, for example, ‘every Trump outrage increased the proportion of Americans who said, ‘We are an immigrant country,’ writes Greenberg. Indeed, according to recent Pew data, 62 percent of Americans say that immigrants strengthen the country, while 28 percent, a near record low, see them as a burden.

Yet rather than modulating their anti-immigrant politics in response, Republicans have little choice but to double down, because so many of their voters are driven by nativism. In this way, Greenberg sees an omen for the Republican Party in California. It’s hard to remember now, but the state was once the heartland of conservatism, nurturing the political careers of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. From 1968 to 1988, it voted Republican in every presidential election, and regularly elected Republican governors.

But in 1994, California Republicans, fearful of changing demography, campaigned for Proposition 187, a ballot initiative meant to make life miserable for undocumented immigrants. It won — though courts blocked its implementation — but it also turned expanding constituencies in California against Republicans. Today the party has been reduced to an irrelevant rump faction in state politics.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: “Not long ago, immigration was seen as a liability for Democrats and the pollsters said you should only talk about it quietly with Latino voters and as little as possible with anyone else. Now, immigration is emerging as a liability for Trump and potent symbol of both his failure and his divisiveness. Americans have had a taste of the anti-immigration policies of Donald Trump and Stephen Miller and are running in the opposite direction — towards sensible policies, humane treatment of families and children, and practical solutions to incorporate immigrants, not exclude them.”