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Might Trump’s bashing of immigrants backfire at the polls?

REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
A girl holding a sign at a protest at the Paso del Norte international border crossing bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Saturday.

Here’s a surprising argument: What if Donald Trump’s immigrant-bashing rhetoric during 2016 actually cost him more votes than it got him?

That’s the provocative thesis of a New York Times op-ed published yesterday by University of Minnesota political scientists Howard Lavine and Wendy Rahn.

If they are right, it certainly stands one conventional strain of How-Trump-Won logic on its head — namely the belief that his xenophobic Build-The-Wall, deport-the-immigrants rhetoric helped gin up support for Trump among voters harboring anti-immigration views and helped him pull off his surprise victory.

Yes, Lavine and Rahn concede, Trump did a bit better than his Republican predecessors among white voters who are opposed to immigration.

But, they find, Hillary Clinton did a lot better among white voters who favor immigration. So much better that it probably was a net positive for the Democratic ticket and may be one of the key factors that help Clinton and Tim Kaine win the overall popular vote.

Rahn and Lavine lay it out statistically in their piece and the accompanying graphics. And you should click here to read their full Times piece. But, to summarize:

According to exit polling data from the highly regarded American National Election Study (ANES), 48 percent of white voters told ANES that they preferred to see fewer immigrants coming to the United States. And, of those who felt that way, just 21 percent voted for the Democratic ticket. But Democrats lost that group (meaning those who told ANES that they favored a cut in immigration) in all of the last four elections, and the Clinton ticket did only a little worse than her predecessors.

Another 40 percent of all voters told ANES that they preferred to have the level of immigration remain the same as it has been. And Clinton-Kaine received the support of 45 percent of those voters, almost equal to their 48 percent share of the overall vote.

Then there’s the group, about which we seldom hear, that told ANES they preferred to see more immigrants entering the United States. It was just 16 percent of the electorate, but that was actually the highest share in the last four presidential election cycles who gave that answer. And those voters favored Clinton by 72 percent. That represented a really big jump from past three cycles, when only about 50 percent of those who favored more immigration voted for the Democratic ticket.

That’s the big surprising finding. People don’t vote just on one issue. But, at the very least, the big jump in Democratic voting among those who favor more immigration at least raises the possibility that quite a few voters – including some who had voted Republican in the past, moved into the blue camp because they were turned off by Trump‘s immigration-bashing rhetoric.

You can torture those numbers only so far, but …  

The column was headlined: “What if Trump’s Nativism Actually Hurts Him?”

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Jim Roth on 07/03/2018 - 11:30 am.

    Did it really backfire where it mattered?

    The study doesn’t break down the numbers by state. This is significant as long as the Electoral College determines the outcome of Presidential elections. Of course this is intuitive when a candidate like Hillary Clinton wins the popular vote but loses in the Electoral College, as did Al Gore. It also doesn’t reflect the passion around the particular issues which translates into persistence over time. Perhaps the clearest example of this is the women’s choice issue.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/03/2018 - 03:11 pm.

    Voters’ heads

    Since we can’t get inside them, all we have is speculation.
    However, speculation based on facts is still better than a simple statement of opinion.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 07/03/2018 - 10:20 pm.

    Everybody is for more immigration as long as it

    legal immigration and merit based. We need more folks to fill jobs from engineering to crop picking. Visa lottery and chain migration are not merit based. Releasing folks who cross illegally with children (80% do not show up for immigration court date) into our society without vetting is a poor way to ensure we get the folks we are looking for.
    When the left attacks ICE and Border Patrol for doing their job, aware voters understand it is the failure of our congress not the agencies enforcing the laws. Most Americans blame the parents for either crossing illegally with their children or letting their children make a 2 thousand mile hazardous trip unaccompanied by adults.
    Open borders is a losing battle for Democrats but since Trump is for strong borders the left automatically goes for releasing parents or adults claiming to be parents of children into our country not vetted. Good luck with that.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 07/04/2018 - 04:32 pm.

      Again with the unsupported statistic

      Please provide the source for your claim that “80% do not show up for immigration court date”.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/04/2018 - 07:17 pm.

      This country was founded by illegal immigrants

      -Native Americans- stopped welcoming Europeans after they saw what they did, so most of our ancestors were illegal immigrants.
      And we have a long history of welcoming immigrants fleeing oppression (at least as long as they were Christian — see the history of the 1930’s).
      And finally, the facts show that even illegal immigrants are law-abiding and productive citizens who pay taxes and create more jobs than they take. Except for some politicians of the troglodyte stripe, it’s a win-win situation.

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