Immigration Politics in the 2016 Election
by Xavier Medina Vidal, University of Arkansas
When Donald Trump launched his candidacy for US president, he assigned Mexican immigrants and Latinos of all origins a major role in his campaign. Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric set the tone of the immigration-politics debate and, in doing so, his characterizations divided US society and Americans’ views toward immigrants and Latinos. Trump’s anti-immigrant divisiveness clearly found audiences willing to hear him out; many who welcomed his message were in the region of the country where Latino immigration is reshaping centuries-old attitudes about race: the US South.
According to Pew Research, seven of the 10 fastest-growing Latino populations between 2010 and 2014 were in Southern states, where growth rates ranged from 120% in Virginia to 176% in Tennessee (Stepler and López 2016). Beyond demographics, growth among the Latino electorate is an important indicator of Latino influence in the South, where electoral competitiveness is increasingly shaped by new Latino voters (Medina Vidal and García Ríos 2017; Wilkinson 2015). Considering these demographic and political shifts, the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society conducted a national survey of 3,668 respondents to examine their attitudes toward immigration politics and policy in the days following the 2016 general election.1 Of the Blair Center Poll (BCP) sample, 1,021 respondents were Latino/Hispanic (511 Southern, 510 non-Southern), 915 were African American (457 Southern, 458 non-Southern), and 1,732 were non-Hispanic white (860 Southern, 872 non-Southern). The sample’s 1,828 Southern residents were those living in the 11 states that formed the Confederate States of America. Respondents were asked whether they agree or disagree with building a wall between the United States and Mexico and with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The findings of this poll summarize important differences in opinion along ethno-racial and regional lines.