What Do Voters Really Think About Immigration?

Interesting takeaways from a report apparently prepared for Democratic group

By Andrew R. Arthur on November 27, 2019

On November 19, 2019, Ryan James Girdusky tweeted a link to a report captioned "October 2019 Suburban White Working Class Voters Focus Groups" that, if valid, suggests strong support for the president's immigration agenda among important swing-state voters.

That report was purportedly prepared for House Majority Forward, which describes itself as "a progressive, non-profit organization committed to promoting economic growth and opportunity, social justice, environmental stewardship, and democracy in the United States of America." Politico (in an article headlined "Dems launch secret-money ad blitz to back House majority") described House Majority Forward as an "affiliate" of House Majority PAC, a political action committee dedicated to electing Democrats to the House of Representatives.

First, the caveats:

I cannot attest to the validity of the report (which is dated October 21, 2019), or the fact that it was, in fact, prepared for House Majority Forward. In fact, the only online link I can find to the report actually appears on the website of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), that is, the political target (and opponent) of House Majority Forward. The URL for the NRCC link includes the phrase "What-Happens-When-You-Are-Obsessed-With-Impeachment", however, suggesting that they think that the report is valid.

The report bears the logos of Expedition Strategies ("We create campaign strategies that suit the candidate"), Global Strategy Group ("GSG", "the go-to public affairs, communications, and research partner for companies, causes, and campaigns"), and Normington Petts (a "Polling and Campaign Strategy" group), but again, I cannot vouch for the fact that any of them participated in its preparation. It does not appear on any of their websites, but the groups have, however, represented or do represent a number of Democratic campaigns, and GSG and Normington Petts list "House Majority PAC" among their clients.

All of that said, it's not unusual that a group like House Majority Forward would commission a report like that to which Girdusky linked, nor that they would not release it publicly. They would plainly want to know the actual opinions of an important bloc of voters on issues of the day for their own internal purposes, and would likely not want to release it for public consumption. Nor would firms commissioned to prepare such a report release it publicly, either, at least not without the permission of their employers.

With all of that in mind, the report purportedly covers the results of research on "two groups of White non-college voters", both male and female, from two congressional districts in New Jersey, NJ-02 (which covers the southern part of the state, currently represented in Congress by Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D-N.J.)), and NJ-03 (in the middle of the state and cutting it in two, currently represented by Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.)).

Kim defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur by fewer than 4,000 votes in the 2018 election, while a well-financed Van Drew defeated Republican Seth Grossman by fewer than 20,000 votes in 2018 (there were four other contenders), in a race for the seat that had previously been held by Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo.

As an aside — "working class" in this context apparently is code for "non-college educated", but I know plenty of college-educated people who proudly consider themselves "working class" — myself included. The term smacks of effete snobbery, but rather than confuse issues, I will use it herein.

The first interesting takeaway appears in the "Overview" section of the report:

Most of the respondents — across all of the groups — said they side with Trump on immigration. Almost to a person, immigration was described as a matter of bringing "control" to our borders and immigration system (the treatment of children at the border barely came up during the groups).

In fact, among the males surveyed, national security and immigration were more important than abortion rights and government spending, and the respondents did not mention impeachment or Syria until they were asked.

That said, however, the support for the president's immigration policies did have one notable exception: "support for 'control' did not necessarily mean support for a wall — nobody explicitly said they support a wall and several clearly said they do not support a wall."

In toto, this would suggest that efforts by much of the national media to portray the president's immigration agenda as "harsh" or "outside of the mainstream" of American political thought are in error. I have long believed that images from the Obama administration of thousands of migrants, and especially of migrant children, surging toward the border in 2014 and 2016 (in particular) at the same time the president was trying to pull off an administrative amnesty resulted in significant support for Donald Trump from much of what would become his "base". The American people are big-hearted, but they by and large support enforcing most laws (and especially the ones they have not themselves broken from time-to-time).

And I do not know the sum total of what the American people expect of their federal government, but after more than a quarter century of involvement in immigration, I do know that border security is pretty far up the list. If the border is plainly not under control, and the government is not doing everything it can to bring the border under control, there will be consequences at the voting booth for those who are seen as being responsible for the chaos. Whatever else you want to say about the man, this is a subject that the President Trump is hands-on interested in, and it shows.

The respondents' lack of support for a wall, per se, is not a surprise, at least from an immigration perspective. You can build a wall along the entire 1,954 miles of the Southwest border, but migrants will simply stand on the other side waiting to be let in until you fix the laws.

I believe that the president truly supports more infrastructure along the border (as do I, to assist the Border Patrol in its work), but his talk of "building the wall" has always (in my mind at least) simply been shorthand for "controlling immigration along the Southwest border and ending catch-and-release by closing the loopholes that encourage migrants to hire criminals to smuggle them across the border illegally." "Build the wall" is punchier and easier to chant at political rallies.

And while I believe that the press loves to run stories with pictures of children who have been apprehended at the border as a human-interest hook (and an easy way to take a shot at the president), the public understands that the facts are more complicated and nuanced than the press portrays. If my two-year-old daughter were to appear in the newspaper crying and looking up at a man with a badge and a gun, most people would blame me, not the law-enforcement officer, for the situation.

The report contains another interesting takeaway: "When asked what Congress should try to work with Trump to achieve, immigration was the dominant response — and as we heard in the beginning of the conversation, that would mean controlling immigration."

Again, this suggests to me at least that the average voter is more savvy than the editorial board of the Washington Post (for example) when it comes to the problems caused by illegal immigration, and their possible solutions. Giving the president any victories on immigration, however, appears to be too high a price for House Democrats to willingly pay, no matter how reasonable the president's proposals, so there has been no legislation to plug loopholes and secure the border, or even to recognize that the problems exist.

CNBC recently reported that polls have shown the president is competitive in six battleground states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina. The report that is the subject of this post, if accurate, suggests why.

October 2019 statistics from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis show that the number of white, working-class voters is on the decline in the United States, but that those citizens were still in the majority (or close to it) in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, while Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina have a significant minority of such workers. I personally eschew such demographic distinctions (I think all Americans vote on the issues that matter to them, and I dislike attempts to divide and pigeonhole them based on immutable characteristics), but note that, in January 2018, Vox ran an article with the headline: "Democrats need to win more working-class white votes."

Again, I cannot tell you whether the October 2019 report was actually commissioned by House Majority Forward, or actually completed by the firms identified. But I believe that the results therein as they relate to immigration accurately reflect the attitudes of "suburban white working class voters", and many other Americans as well. If Democrats want to hold the House, and capture the Senate and the White House, in 2020, they would do well to listen.

Topics: Politics