Immigration and the Democrats
Although a number of national polls show majorities in support of granting legal status to illegal aliens, immigration is really an issue for a zealous minority of voters. A New York Times analysis of the issue found that "among those who say immigration is their top issue, opponents outnumber supporters by nearly two to one."
Whether it's gun control or open borders, Democrats are a potential constituency not to be ignored by conservatives – both issues marshal opponents more than they motivate supporters.
Although voter angst over illegal alien policies have taken a dramatic turn downward among Democrats, strict controls on immigration remain a concern that could become a wedge issue for conservative candidates.
As part of a Fox News poll during the 2010 election, 46 percent of Democrats endorsed "building a wall or security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal immigration." However, in a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, Democrat support for building a wall plummeted to just 29 percent. Curiously, the Democrats' dissatisfaction with the levels of legal and illegal immigration has been on the rise recently – a January 2018 Gallup poll now clocks the number at 50 percent – even as President Trump has made the issue much more divisive.
A Bloomberg News story reported, "It's possible that the majority of Americans has grown so comfortable with immigration that the Democrats represent a stable consensus. But high levels of immigration, such as the U.S. has experienced over recent decades, have historically produced unsettling effects. Moreover, it's hard to square the election results of 2016, in which 63 million Americans voted for a candidate with a crudely anti-immigrant message, with an expansive national embrace of immigration."
It is telling that one in four Democrats agrees with nearly 80 percent of Republicans who are "somewhat dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with current U.S. immigration levels, according to a recent Gallup poll. Misgivings about immigration policies among grassroots Democrats could well be fertile ground for GOP candidates needing crossover Democrats to win elections.
When it comes to restraints on illegal immigration, Democrat power-brokers may be dismissing a valuable segment of their voter base. Consider Andrew Sullivan, writing in New York magazine:
Democrats are no longer as willing to attack 'illegal immigration' as a fundamental problem anymore. This is, to be blunt, political suicide. The Democrats increasingly seem to suggest that any kind of distinction between citizens and non-citizens is somehow racist. You could see this at the convention, when an entire evening was dedicated to Latinos, illegal and legal, as if the rule of law were largely irrelevant. Hence the euphemism 'undocumented' rather than 'illegal.' So, the stage was built, lit, and set for Trump."
A few Democratic strategists do understand how the immigration issue cuts at the polls. Simon Rosenberg, president of the think-tank New Democratic Network, argues that "Democrats will have a hard time winning this debate unless we acknowledge people's legitimate concerns about having a functioning border and keeping people safe."
Democrat elitists fail to see immigration as a chink in their political armor. However, if you dig just under the surface of their arrogance and ignorance, there are surprising trends. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, an average of 67 percent of Hispanics have said that they worry a great deal or fair amount about illegal immigration. That is higher than apprehensions among non-Hispanic whites (59 percent) and blacks (57 percent). An October 2016 Pew Research poll showed that "African-American support for immigration is about 15 points below Democrats overall."
So are there really Democrats who will vote for candidates with Trump-style stands on illegal immigration? According to the New York Times (of all sources), "[p]ositions like those held by Mr. Trump on trade, immigration, guns, and the environment have considerable support from white working-class Democrats." The paper cited a Pew Research survey in which 38 percent of Democrats polled said, "Immigrants are a burden to society" and 35 percent agreed that "[n]ewcomers threaten traditional values."
Still, liberal political commentators steadily beat the drums about how the issue could spell disaster for immigration reform or restriction candidates. The Chicago Tribune ran an opinion piece titled "How the 2018 election could end the nightmare of Trump," contending, "His misogynist and xenophobic rhetoric, his mean-spirited vendetta against hardworking immigrants ... have ignited a backlash that could deliver House and Senate majorities to Democrats." An op-ed in the New York Times claimed, "Democrats can win on immigration: it's morally just to stand up against hatred and bigotry. It's also good politics." And the left-wing Nation magazine asserted, "Latinos are the key to taking back the Senate in 2018," because "the rapidly expanding ranks of Latinos have the potential to decimate the political power of White supremacists and their enablers in Congress and the White House."
All this is reminiscent of all those foreboding headlines two years ago: "Donald Trump's chances of winning are approaching zero" (Washington Post), "Donald Trump has already lost the election" (Time), and "Why Donald Trump will lose To Hillary Clinton" (The American Conservative). In the end, Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu's observation most aptly applies to media predictions on immigration: "Those who have knowledge don't predict. Those who predict don't have knowledge."