Democratic pollsters are bullish that immigration will be a winning issue for their party Tuesday, even though President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pauses Missouri campaign rally after woman collapses Fox News hosts join Trump on stage at Missouri campaign rally Nate Silver in final midterm projections: ‘Democrats need a couple of things to go wrong’ to lose the House MORE used the topic as his closing argument for the 2018 election.
“There’s evidence in the recent Virginia election in 2017 that the approach that Republicans are taking down the stretch in this election doesn’t work,” Jeff Liszt, a partner at progressive polling firm ALG Research, told reporters on a call Tuesday.
In the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election, Republican Ed Gillespie centered his pitch around MS-13 and immigrant crime, but lost to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) by nearly 9 percentage points.
In the final days of the 2018 campaign, Trump has doubled down on immigration as his top issue, tweeting out an ad that was rejected by several networks and social media platforms for its racially incendiary content.
Democratic analysts say their numbers show the president’s strategy is backfiring.
“It does provide some energy to their base, but it backfires with people of color, and with suburban voters, and independent voters, particularly independent women,” said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Strategies.
“It is also a strategy that energizes our base,” she added.
But many Democratic campaigns are not engaging Trump on the issue, instead preferring to highlight the party message on health care.
“It has been the case that progressives and Democrats have at times shied away from this issue,” said Gary Segura, principal of Latino Decisions, a polling firm that specializes in surveying Hispanics.
“But … it is a winning issue for Democrats and we can and should be leaning into it,” he said.
A Bloomberg analysis of TV ad buy data from Kantar Media/CMAG shows that neither Republican nor Democratic campaigns are generally focusing on immigration as the top issue.
Save for a swath of central Georgia and small pockets in Arizona, California and Texas, immigration has not been the top issue discussed in political ads in any media market.
And the ad buy data confirms Segura’s claim that many Democratic campaigns are staying away from the issue.
Democrats have bought essentially no ads talking about immigration in places like the Carolinas, the Texas Panhandle, Utah, Wisconsin and the Great Plains.
Segura said polling on immigration shows most voting blocs are put off by some Trump policies, such as the separation of parents from their children at the border.
“Latinos are hugely angry at family separations,” said Segura, adding that 84 percent of Hispanics reported feeling “angry” at the policy.
“But when we poll in other communities, we find similar numbers. 79 percent of Asian-Americans, 83 percent of African-Americans and even 69 percent of non-Hispanic white Americans report feeling ‘angry’ about the childhood separation policy,” said Segura.
Still, many Republicans have followed Trump’s lead in painting immigration as a public safety issue.
In many races where that’s happened, data shows Democrats are not engaging in the immigration debate.
But in cases where the Democratic and Republican candidates have presented starkly different visions of immigration policy, Lake said Democrats usually come out ahead.
“In poll after poll, Democrats today have the advantage on immigration,” she said.
Lake pointed to Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Nevada Senate candidate Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenElection Countdown: Trump frames midterm as referendum on presidency | Senate seats most likely to flip | Huge turnout raises Dem hopes | Controversy over Trump ad | Weather forecast has storm headed to key states | DOJ to monitor voting in 19 states Poll: Rosen leads Heller by 4 points in Nevada Senate race The top Senate seats most likely to flip MORE as two Democrats who’ve effectively countered their opponents’ immigration rhetoric.
“The best strategy is not to duck and cover, but to call it out,” she said.
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