The migrant caravan — more than 7,000 Central Americans slowly making their way north toward the US-Mexico border — is making Republican voters mad, and could be a major motivating force in November.
Just two weeks from the midterm elections in November, Republicans are most angered by undocumented immigrants crossing the border and by calls to impeach Trump, according to a survey conducted by Reuters and Ipsos gauging emotional response toward the biggest headlines this month.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely angry, the survey found Republicans ages 55 and older registered an average 7.9 in anger about illegal immigration. Republicans have consistently named illegal immigration as the biggest problem facing the US, whereas Democrats prioritize health care, gun violence, and climate change.
This reality has made the caravan, still more than 1,000 miles away from the border, a salient message on the campaign trail. President Trump stoked racial fears this week, tweeting, without evidence, that that the caravan contained “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” and encouraging his base to “remember the midterms” every time they see the caravan.
Polls in some states have swung toward Republicans over the past month, suggesting this message might be resonating. In Nevada, for example, where incumbent Sen. Dean Heller is one of the most vulnerable Republicans on the ballot this year, immigration tops the list as the biggest priority for voters — and Republicans are polling ahead of Democrats. In the most recent Ipsos/Reuters poll, 43 percent of likely voters in Nevada felt Heller had better immigration policy compared to only 33 percent who felt Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen was better on the issue.
In an election that will be defined by voter enthusiasm, Republicans have resorted to race-baiting immigration messages in the final months to close the gap with Democrats. The caravan has given them more fodder.
Trump’s immigration agenda isn’t popular overall. But it energizes Republicans.
As Vox’s Dara Lind explained, Fox News and other right-wing media outlets have also been all over the caravan story.
“Powerful images that appear to validate conservative base fears of ‘invasion’ by ‘lawless’ foreigners and the countries that ‘send’ them,” Lind writes. “Trump himself has been using imagery like this since he started his presidential campaign in 2015 and talked about Mexico ‘sending’ rapists and murderers over the US-Mexico border.”
But immigration isn’t only angering Republicans. According to the Reuters survey, college-educated Democrats registered an average 8.4 on the anger scale over family separations at the border — the result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which split roughly 3,000 children from their families.
Trump’s immigration agenda doesn’t fare well among voters overall. More than half of Americans — 58 percent — disapprove of how Trump has handled immigration matters, according to an early July Quinnipiac poll. Republicans are much more likely to approve of Trump’s immigration agenda, but a renewed push to legislate around Trump’s immigration agenda could be disastrous for vulnerable Republican candidates in battleground districts.
If 2018 is a test of which party’s voters are angrier, immigration is clearly making Republicans mad — but the effects of Trump’s policies, like the images of children being held in cells, are enraging Democrats even more.
And that could be enough to give them an edge on Election Day.