tags: America’s Voice Research on Immigration Reform

Report: “Anti-Immigrant Ads Don’t Add Up in 2008”

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A new analysis of immigration advertisements finds that the strategy of using immigration as a political wedge issue in the 2008 election cycle was an utter failure.

In the aftermath of the 2008 elections, America’s Voice (AV) conducted a series of public opinion polls, studied battleground races where immigration played a key role, and evaluated the unprecedented turnout of Latino and immigrant voters. Adding to this seminal research, AV’s latest post-election report evaluates television advertisement data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) and classifies each ad on a spectrum ranging from positive, pro-immigration ads (“1”) to harsh, anti-immigration ads (“5”). [1]

AV is excited to produce this first-of-its-kind report summarizing key findings. According to our review:

Immigration ads were prominent in many races throughout the country in 2008. In total, 234 immigration-related ads aired in 79 federal and statewide campaigns in 35 states. [2] Total spending on immigration-related ads by campaigns, parties, and outside groups was at least $27.2 million.

The vast majority of immigration ads were on enforcement alone, not comprehensive reform. 84% of all immigration ads this cycle were on the “enforcement-only” and in many cases anti-immigrant side of the spectrum, while pro-immigrant ads represented just 5% of the total. Harsh immigration ads also dominated overall spending, as candidates, parties, and outside organizations funded these ads at approximately an 8:1 ratio over positive immigration ads ($21m to $2.7m).

Despite spending significantly on immigration ads, most candidates airing them lost. Of the 218 ads aired by Republicans or Democrats in races that have been decided, only 69, or 32%, favored a winning candidate. [3] GOP candidates, party committees, and outside group allies sponsored 78% of the immigration-related ads in races that have been decided. Only 17% of these ads were placed by winning GOP candidates and their allies.

In the Presidential campaign, immigration was the topic of 9 ads run by Obama and McCain or their parties, totaling over $2.5 million in spending. In addition, Spanish language advertising on immigration was heavily used by both Presidential campaigns. While only 4% of the overall number of ads and 8% of the overall spending on immigration ads was in Spanish (10 ads and $2.2m respectively), these ads were key components of the Presidential campaigns’ efforts to target an important group of swing voters.

Outside groups also aired immigration ads targeting the Presidential contest, and their tone was overwhelmingly negative. Outside organizations — National Rifle Association, National Republican Trust PAC, and Latinos for Reform — sponsored a total of four ads on immigration in the Presidential race. Each of these ads attacked Obama on the issue — three from a harsh, anti-immigration position. FactCheck.org called the NRA and Latinos for Reform ads “false” and “misleading,” and said that the National Republican Trust PAC ad on driver’s licenses was “one of the sleaziest false TV ads of the campaign.”

Our review of immigration ads in the 2008 cycle shows that the illegal immigration wedge strategy — where mainly Republican candidates ran attack ads against Democrats — was a loser. Republican candidates and parties ran 85% of the harshest immigration ads (“5”) in decided races. Only 21% of these ads were placed by winning GOP candidates and their allies. For example, in the North Carolina Senate race between incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) and Kay Hagan (D), Dole went on the attack against Hagan in a series of immigration ads, but still lost. The same was true in the NM-2 House race, where Ed Tinsley (R) also targeted Harry Teague (D) with harsh immigration ads.

Voters saw through false claims and distortions by the GOP. The Republican Party’s efforts to distort procedural votes and misrepresent policy positions by Democrats in ads failed to put their candidates over the top. Republican infighting on the issue depleted campaign coffers, and helped turn key states from red to blue.

Our analysis of immigration ads in the 2008 cycle confirms what we found in our earlier report on battleground races: the illegal immigration “wedge” strategy, mostly employed by Republicans against Democrats, was a spectacular failure.

The following report expands upon these key findings, and includes links to many of the campaign ads that aired this cycle.

[1] Detailed “methodology” is available at the end of the report.

[2] Immigration ads aired in 70% of the states: AL, AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NH, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WI, WV, and WY.

[3] For purposes of analysis, we grouped together candidates, parties, and ideological outside group allies. For example, ads sponsored by Republican candidates, the RNC, and Freedom’s Watch are grouped together.