Since the news of the "migrant caravan" broke in mid-October, President Trump has made immigration a major issue in the coming halves, calling it "the election of the caravan." Trump has claimed that the caravan is made up of criminals. These include people from the Middle East, and migrants could be shot and killed by the US military if they act aggressively.
The strategy, it appears, is to bring xenophobic fears against republican votes and to remind voters of its promise to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, a signed but unfulfilled Trump election campaign of 2016 ,
Will these tactics help the Republicans to take part in the elections on Tuesday? Our data suggest that the answer is no. But even more than that, after Tuesday, Republicans in Congress might have trouble solving a problem Trump has now doubled: the immigration reform.
How did we research?
Given Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric, one could expect the relationship between immigration behavior and medium-term election intentions to increase during the 2018 campaign season. To test this possibility, we analyzed data from our nationally representative panel survey of likely voters. This survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for us, is unique in that the same respondents expressed their voice intentions and answered the same three questions on measuring immigration attitudes in early July and late October.
We asked the same 957 most likely voters whether they support or reject the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, whether the new immigration is already taking jobs away from the people here, and whether "illegal immigrants" living in the US should be allowed stay and apply for citizenship. Since we should measure immigration behavior long ago (July 3 to 12) and shortly after Trump's attacks on the resident caravan (19 to 29 October poll) began, Trump's comments should influence immigration behavior.
To test how the immigrants' attitudes to voting are, we have summarized the answers to the three immigration issues as a composite index against immigrants, stating that they intend to vote for a Republican or a Democrat in upcoming parliamentary elections. Not surprisingly, the anti-immigration stance at both times was an important indicator of Republican intentions.
Here's the key question: Were anti-immigration attitudes a stronger indicator of election intent at the end of October than at the beginning of July? If Trump's caravan rhetoric had actually led to voters resorting to their immigration stance in their choice of preferences, we would expect a stronger relationship in our October data.
This was not the case. The relationship between immigration behavior and election intent was statistically equivalent at both points in time. This means that, despite Trump's recent attachment to immigration, there is no evidence that likely voters have changed by how much they have made their voting decisions based on their immigration stance.
It is possible that the purpose of these anti-immigration declarations is to reach the republican voice. With our research design we can also test this possibility. In the poll from the end of October, we randomly selected 136 respondents who had previously indicated that they were unlikely to vote, but now indicated that they would likely vote. This could be an important group for Trump, who chose the midterm elections as a "referendum" on his previous presidency.
It is striking that the relationship between immigration posture and voting intent for this group is even weaker. In other words, the voting intentions of those who are attuned to the interludes no longer seem to be driven by the immigration stance than those who were likely to be voters from the start.
A third possibility is that Trump probably made voters more against immigration. If this is the case Trump could still be useful, although the relationship between immigration and election intent has not changed. To test a Trump effect on immigrant attitudes, we compared the percentage of likely voters who supported anti-immigration views in the July and October polls. In all three questions, the views against immigration were extremely stable. No statistical differences were found.
Although republicans resisted immigration far more than democrats, the attitude of both guerrilla groups remained stable over time. Late-probing voters (those who were in our original sample but did not pass our screening criteria by October) did not express different immigration behavior compared to the early probable voters. In summary, there is no evidence in our data that Trump's recent rhetoric has any impact on immigrant attitudes or how these attitudes relate to voice intentions.
How Trump's rhetoric can hurt Republicans
However, these results do not mean that Trump's words have no effect. In fact, our data shows that immigration is very important to many in Trump. In our October poll, we asked, "What is the main topic that Congress should address after the midterm elections?" The answers were far reaching – from health care, to inequality, to education and racism – but especially to immigration related answers stood out among the Trump supporters.
If immigration matters to US voters, how will that impact? Our results could be problematic for Republicans, as immigration is a major problem, but overall attitudes towards immigration have remained stable, with reference to the voting decision between early July and late October. The GOP was unable to pass an immigration reform even though it controlled the house, the Senate and the White House. Despite historically low levels of undocumented immigration, Trump has now focused his base on immigration – without obvious electoral benefits.
As the "Blue Wave" sweeps across the United States on Tuesday, Republicans in Congress are soon wishing that the president had joined forces on another issue.
Peter K. Enns (@ pete_enns) Associate Professor of Government and Executive Director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University.
Jonathon P. Schuldt (@ Jonathon guilty) Is a professor of communications and faculty member at the Roper Center of Cornell University.