tags: , , , , Press Releases

The Immigration Issue and Moderate, Swing and Persuadable Voters – Lessons from 2020

Share This:

A recording of the call is available here.


Immigration, once seen as a key wedge issue to be used by Republicans to weaken Democrats, turned out to be a liability for Republicans and an asset for Democrats in 2020. Earlier today, three leading national immigration advocacy groups and a pollster who has watched immigration issues closely reported on these findings and how they played out in key battleground states among swing voters in 2020. 

The organizations played an active role in surveying swing or persuadable voters and how pro-immigrant messaging played out in presidential and down-ballot races. A collective report will be released alongside this briefing detailing the activities and lessons learned from multifaceted, multimillion dollar campaigns targeting swing voters with pro-immigrant messages. 

“Immigration as a wedge issue failed this year, and our outreach to two million voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Colorado demonstrated that swing voters can be persuaded with pro-immigration content,” said Tyler Moran, Executive Director of the Immigration Hub. “But it was not because Trump didn’t try﹣ it was because the American public was sick of the president’s divisive rhetoric. The vast majority of Americans, including swing voters in battleground states, support pro-immigration policies like a path to citizenship. This election was not only a total rebuke of Trump’s xenophobic agenda but also proved that the American public strongly supports reuniting migrant families and protecting Dreamers﹣key promises that President-Elect Biden has committed to deliver on the first day of his administration.”

In 2020, we demonstrated that campaigns targeting persuadable voters can embrace a pro-immigrant vision for America, and win by doing so,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center Immigrant Justice Fund. “Our work this year represents what we hope is a new model and a new approach for campaigns and candidates. The message is clear: immigrant families represent a valuable political constituency, rather than a policy problem to be addressed every few years.”

Nick Gourevitch, Partner & Managing Director of Research, Global Strategies Group, said,
“Trump’s hardline immigration approach had a net negative impact on him in key states, with just 34% of voters citing immigration as a reason to support Trump. While 41% cited it as a reason to vote against him — a seven point gap. Immigration played a critical role with those folks who moved to Biden because of this issue and were ultimately decisive in this election. Specific policy areas like family separation, were especially damaging to the President and this is something we saw in research throughout the year. So even though Trump spent millions of dollars on the issue of immigration, it just didn’t land in this election. It was ineffective and in fact, issues like family separation made the issue of immigration more of a vulnerability for the president than a strength.”

Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice, said, “In 2016, it was alarming to us when Trump made immigration central to his identity and platform and then won in an upset. But what we noticed in numerous electoral contests from 2017 to 2019 is that while xenophobia mobilized Trump’s base voters, it also mobilized an enormous backlash. We saw this in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial races when Ralph Northam defeated Ed Gillespie, who ran hard on Willie Horton-style MS-13 ads, but lost by 9 points; in March 2018 during a special election in a Trump + 20 district in southwestern Pennsylvania when attacks on Conor Lamb on “amnesty” fell flat and Lamb won; in the 2018 midterms when Trump tried to nationalize the race on caravan hysteria and accusations of criminality, and Republicans suffered the largest midterm loss in American history. In these races, attacking immigrants and pro-immigrant policy did not work and mostly backfired. As a result, we are not surprised that in 2020, immigration hurt Trump more than it helped him, and that a multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational majority rejected Trump’s divisiveness and elected the proudly pro-immigrant Biden-Harris ticket.”