Immigration and the 2016 Elections
This election cycle, the media’s focus, and thus most Americans, has been primarily on immigration and the stark differences between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump. While Americans rank this issue as very important and high within their top priorities, it is important to note that they do not consider it their sole determining factor in their choice for President. In a Gallup Poll taken in February 2016, both Republicans and Democrats ranked their top priorities as terrorism and national security, the economy, employment and jobs, and health care. The Pew Research Center poll conducted in July mirrored this with the economy, terrorism, foreign policy and health care as the top four issues of concern; immigration was 6th after gun policy. Immigration, Pew found, is very important to 77 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters and 65 percent to Democrat and Democrat leaning voters.
The 2016 Presidential race is significantly different from the last several Presidential elections. While most Americans are engaged in this year’s Presidential race between Trump and Clinton, the overall satisfaction with the choice of Presidential candidates is at its lowest point in two decades. In a March 15, 2016 survey by the Purdue Institute for Civic Communication (PICC), in partnership with The Hill, C-SPAN, and the polling firm Penn Schoen Berland, more than half of Americans said they were dissatisfied or embarrassed when they looked at the 2016 Presidential candidates.
This sentiment was echoed in a Pew Research Center poll conducted on July 7, 2016 which found that fewer than half of the registered voters say that they are satisfied with their Presidential choices. That same poll also found that roughly 4 out of 10 people indicated that it was difficult to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton because neither would make a good President. Despite their overall dissatisfaction with the candidates, 80 percent of the registered voters said they had given a lot of thought to this election compared to 67 percent from four years ago.
In another sign of voter discontent this election cycle, many Trump and Clinton supporters view their vote for their candidate not as a vote of support for the candidate’s ideas but rather as a vote against the opposing candidate.
The Vice Presidential candidates, Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence and Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, have improved the likeability of the Presidential candidates. Likewise, Pence has provided comfort to the Republican base on the issues since Trump is a “newcomer” to the political arena.
The contest for the Presidency is focused on the battleground states since the majority of states, like California for Clinton and Texas for Trump, are already long decided. The battleground states for 2016 are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Four of these battleground states--North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia-- account for 66 electoral votes or 24 percent of the 270 votes needed to win. These “swing” states have flipped from one party to the other several times and the candidates are essentially tied with polling numbers within the margin of error.
Furthermore, many of these battleground states have a significant immigrant population who are very engaged on the immigration issue. They are acutely aware of the positions delineated by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both candidates have made their immigration plans a critical component of their campaigns.
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
The Republicans control the House with 247 seats compared to 188 Democrat ones. All pundits predict Republicans will keep at least 218 House seats to maintain control but their numerical margins are likely to be decreased. If there is a Democrat-controlled Senate and Hillary Clinton is elected President, it will be up to the House to stop comprehensive immigration reform. This is what happened when the Gang of Eight bill passed the Senate in 2013. Unlike last time, however, Speaker Ryan is more favorable to bringing up a comprehensive immigration reform bill than his predecessor so it may be much harder to defeat this time. Also, if the bill is brought to the House within the first 100 days, Members of Congress may be more willing to pass it because they will still be in that “honeymoon” period with the new administration where they are more willing to work towards the President’s agenda.
The current breakdown in the Senate is 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 2 Independents (who caucus with the Democrats). This year’s election cycle will be challenging for Republicans with 24 seats up for reelection compared to only 10 Democratic ones. Thus, Democrats need to flip 5 seats to take control of the Senate. Alternatively, Democrats need to gain only 4 seats if Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency because Tim Kaine, as Vice President, would break a tie. Regardless of which party controls the Senate, if Clinton wins, comprehensive immigration reform would likely come to the Senate floor for a vote within the first 100 days. Likewise, while Trump has not specified his timeframe to push immigration reform, he would likely act quickly to undo President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
In states where both the Presidency and the Senate are too close to call, Senate candidates are trying to link their opponents to their Presidential candidate’s immigration policy. This is particularly true in Arizona and Nevada which have a lot of Hispanic voters and in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and North Carolina where large swaths of the electorate oppose both Clinton’s and Trump’s immigration policies.
In Pennsylvania and New Hampshire particularly, Republican Senators Pat Toomey and Kelly Ayotte are trying to separate themselves from Donald Trump who is running behind Hillary Clinton in the polls. Rather than focus on “building a wall” in a non-border state, Toomey has preferred to focus his immigration strategy on sanctuary cities like Philadelphia that shelter criminal aliens and make communities dangerous for Americans.
Democratic candidate Catherine Cortez Masto has used every opportunity to tie Donald Trump and Republican candidate Joe Heck together in the Senate race in Nevada to replace retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Despite the high number of Hispanics in Nevada, Joe Heck has said that he embraces Trump’s policies and he is working with both the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee on statewide efforts to get out the vote. At this point, it appears Nevada is the only state where Republicans have a legitimate opportunity to pick a Democrat seat.
After the Supreme Court tie in U.S. v. Texas, many Democratic Senate contenders claimed as part of their immigration strategy that the Republican incumbent was “not doing their job” because the Senate refused to confirm Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. They argued that families, as a result of that decision, are “under a shadow of deportation” and could be broken up because there was a Supreme Court vacancy that wasn’t filled – ignoring the fact that if Justice Scalia had not passed away, there was a good chance that the ruling would have been 5-4 determining that President Obama actions were unconstitutional in granting de facto amnesty to almost 5 million Americans. The only states where the Garland nomination has appeared to gain any traction are Arizona, New Hampshire, and Iowa. Patty Judge has been very vocal about filling the court vacancy in her campaign against Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, who controls whether or not a nominee receives committee consideration.
Also playing a role in this election cycle is outside funds that would normally go to Presidential candidates. Because both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are unfavorable to their bases for different reasons, many of the Senate candidates are benefitting from heavier spending than normal. It remains to be determined how this will ultimately impact the election and which party will control the Senate next Congress.