In 2014, Voters Proved They Care about Immigration

It's the day after Election Day and the dust is just beginning to settle. Clearly, the big news of the night was that Republicans won a majority in the Senate. Republicans maintained their hold of the Senate seats in Georgia, Kentucky, and Kansas, and offered compelling candidates in other races. As a result, Republicans took Senate seats away from Democrats in Iowa, Montana, West Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, and South Dakota. However, there are still three Senate races to be decided: Louisiana, Alaska and Virginia. The race in Louisiana will now be decided by a run-off election, while ballots in Virginia and Alaska continue to be counted. For the moment, therefore, the balance of power in the United States Senate now stands with 52 Republicans and 45 Democrats (including the two Independents that caucus with them).

What explains the outcome? While candidates debated numerous issues during 2014, in the months leading up to the election, it was clear that Americans were concerned about immigration. No doubt this was fueled by the ongoing lawlessness at the border as tens of thousands of illegal alien minors streamed into Texas and were resettled by the government to various locations around the country.

In July, three important polls were released. First, Gallup polled U.S. adults (July 7-10, 2014) and reported that a plurality (17 percent) said immigration is the most important problem facing the country, compared to government dissatisfaction (16 percent), and the economy (15 percent). Then, Rasmussen Reports polled likely voters (July 29-30, 2014) and reported that 37% rated immigration a bigger national security threat than Russia (31 percent) and renewed fighting between Israelis and Palestinians (23 percent). Finally, Associated Press-GfK polled U.S. adults (July 24-28, 2014) and reported that 62 percent think that immigration is an extremely or very important issue and 67 percent think that illegal immigration is an extremely or very serious issue.

Polling in August echoed the results in July. A CBS News poll of adults (July 29-August 4, 2014) showed that 62% think illegal immigration is a very serious problem; 22% think it is somewhat of a serious problem; only 14% think is not very or at all a serious problem. Among Hispanics, the CBS poll showed 56% think it is very serious, 26% think it is somewhat serious, while only 17% think it is not very or at all a problem. Similarly, The Polling Company, Inc. , polled likely voters (August 7-10, 2014) and found that 57% named immigration among their top three items of greatest concern. 

But more than just being concerned about immigration, Americans said time and time again they want limits placed on immigration, our immigration laws enforced and the rule of law restored. For example, in July, Reuters/Ipsos, polled U.S. adults (July 15-22, 2014) and found:

  • 45% think that legal immigration should be decreased; 38% think it should be kept at its current level; 17% think it should be increased;
  • 70% think that illegal aliens threaten traditional American beliefs and customs;
  • 63% think that immigrants place a burden on the U.S. economy; and
  • 75% think that illegal aliens place a burden on the U.S. economy.

Similarly, the August poll conducted by the The Polling Company, Inc. found that:

  • Three in four respondents want substantial reductions in immigration rates;
  • 77% think jobs should go to current U.S.-born workers or legal immigrants already in the country instead of bringing in new immigrants to fill those jobs;
  • 88% of conservatives, 78% of moderates, 78% of independents, 71% of democrats and 62% of liberals think current American workers should get jobs preference;
  • 80% think businesses should recruit the currently unemployed instead of expanding the labor supply with new workers from other countries;
  • 86% of blacks, 73% of whites, and 71% of Hispanics think companies should raise wages and improve working conditions instead of increasing immigration; and
  • 76% think aliens who overstayed their visas should be encouraged to return home.

Not surprisingly, leading up to the elections, voters emphatically rejected the President's immigration policies. In June, a Gallup poll of adults (June 5-8, 2014) and found 65% disapprove of how President Obama is handling immigration. In August, GW Battleground, polled likely voters (August 24-28, 2014) and found 58% disapprove of how President Obama is handling immigration. In October, ABC News/Washington Post, polled adults (October 9-12, 2014) and reported 61% disapprove of how President Obama is handling immigration.

Americans also strongly opposed President Obama's threat to circumvent Congress and unilaterally allow illegal aliens to remain in the U.S. In August, Rasmussen Reports polled likely voters (August 28-29, 2014) and found 62% oppose the president granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens without the approval of Congress and that 55% think Congress should challenge that action in court if the president does so. The August poll conducted by The Polling Company, Inc. found that three in four respondents oppose the President taking any kind of unilateral executive action to grant amnesty. No wonder the President delayed his executive amnesty until after the elections.

Americans' feelings on immigration -- that they consider immigration a key issue, that they want true immigration reform, and that they reject President Obama's immigration policies — were confirmed by the outcome of Tuesday's elections. Here are some races to illustrate the point:

Georgia (Open Republican seat): David Perdue (R) defeats Michelle Nunn (D)

The Georgia Senate race was to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R), who voted against S. 744, the Senate guest worker amnesty bill. (FAIR 113th Voting Report-Senate) Republican businessman David Perdue focused on immigration in his campaign and signed the FAIR Congressional Task Force pledge. (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 9, 2014; FAIR Congressional Task Force pledge) Shortly after winning the Republican primary, Perdue issued an ad about Nunn's pro-amnesty stance. In contrast, Nunn called S. 744 "common-sense solution" and said "the pathway to citizenship that Marco Rubio and others have defined makes sense." (Examiner, July 24, 2014)

Arkansas: Tom Cotton (R) defeats Mark Pryor (D)

In Arkansas, incumbent Mark Pryor, one the most vulnerable Senate Democrats, faced Rep. Tom Cotton. While Pryor voted against amnesty in 2007, he flipped his position on immigration in 2013 and voted for S. 744, the Senate guest worker amnesty bill. (FAIR 113th Voting Report-Senate) In contrast, Tom Cotton has all green pluses in FAIR's Congressional Voting Report and made immigration the focal point of his campaign. (FAIR 113th Voting Report-House; Daily Caller, Aug. 25, 2014) He also ran ads calling Pryor "soft on immigration."

Kentucky: Mitch McConnell (R) defeats Alison Lundergan Grimes (D)

Incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faced a formidable challenge from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell voted against S. 744, the Senate guest worker amnesty bill, and has all green pluses in FAIR's Congressional Voting Report. (FAIR 113th Voting Report-Senate) When polls started showing his race as surprisingly competitive, McConnell began running ads focusing on Grimes's support for amnesty and tying her to President Obama. Grimes did not list immigration as an issue on her campaign website, but voiced her support for S. 744, calling it "an earned path to citizenship." (Grimes Campaign website; Washington Post, Sept. 17, 2014) In the same interview she calls illegal aliens "Americans," saying that "giving a pathway to citizenship for so many millions of Americans can have a positive impact right here in the state of Kentucky." However, in response to McConnell's ads tying her to amnesty, Grimes released an ad declaring, "I've never supported amnesty or benefits for illegal immigrants, and I never will." (See Wall Street Journal, Oct. 14, 2014)

Montana (Open Democrat seat): Steve Daines (R) defeats Amanda Curtis (D)

The Senate race in Montana was to fill the seat of retiring Senator Max Baucus (D). Representative Steve Daines, the Republican nominee, was a reliable vote for true immigration reform in the House, earning all green pluses in FAIR's Congressional Voting Report. (FAIR 113th Voting Report-House) Daines criticized S. 744 (which both of Montana's Democratic Senators voted for), declaring "I will not support proposals that contain amnesty for illegal immigrants currently in our country. We cannot repeat past mistakes by rewarding unlawful behavior — the rule of law is a fundamental foundation of our country, and it must be protected." (Daines Press Release, June 27, 2013)

West Virginia (Open Democrat seat): Shelley Moore Capito (R) defeats Natalie Tennant (D)

The race in West Virginia to fill the seat of retiring Senator Rockefeller was between Representative Shelley Moore Capito and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. Rockefeller, who voted against amnesty in 2007, flipped his position on immigration last year and supported S. 744 despite its overwhelming unpopularity with West Virginia voters. Tennant did not discuss immigration much, if at all, during her campaign, but her campaign chairman was caught on tape saying she agrees with Obama on "most of his policies." In contrast, Rep. Capito has all green pluses in FAIR's Congressional Voting Report and campaigned on immigration. (FAIR 113th Voting Report-House) Additionally, her House website reads: "Shelley opposes amnesty for individuals who are in the United States illegally and does not believe that these persons should be granted legal status. She strongly objects to the Obama administration's attempts to bypass Congress in granting amnesty. Shelley has also cosponsored legislation that would ban illegal immigrants from collecting Social Security benefits and other social services."

Kansas: Pat Roberts (R) defeats Greg Orman (I)

Incumbent Pat Roberts faced a tough challenge in 2014 from independent Greg Orman. Roberts voted against S. 744, the Senate guest worker amnesty bill, and has all green pluses in FAIR's Congressional Voting Report. (FAIR 113th Voting Report-Senate) Orman refused to say whether he will caucus with Republicans or Democrats if he won, but his statements on immigration showed he was an amnesty supporter. On his campaign website, he called for the government "to secure our borders" but he gave no details on how to accomplish that. On the other hand, he set forth a detailed plan for granting amnesty to illegal aliens: "The 11 million undocumented individuals in America should be required to register with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by a certain date, pay a fine or perform community service as an acknowledgment that they've broken the law, hold down a job, pay taxes, and obey our laws, and ultimately, at that point, if they want to get in line and apply for citizenship, they should be able to do so." (Id.)

North Carolina: Thom Tillis (R) defeats Kay Hagan (D)

In her race for re-election, incumbent Kay Hagan faced State House Speaker Thom Tillis. Hagan, a first term Senator who was considered vulnerable, voted for S. 744, the Senate guest worker amnesty bill, and has all red minuses in FAIR's 113th Congress Voting Report. (FAIR 113th Voting Report-Senate) During the campaign, Tillis made an effort to distinguish his position on immigration from Hagan's. A Tillis spokesman said, "Our national crisis at the border has only gotten worse since Kay Hagan and President Obama have been in Washington" adding "Thom Tillis will oppose amnesty and work hard to secure our border. (Citizen-Times, Aug. 21, 2014)

Alaska: Dan Sullivan (R) defeats Mark Begich (D)

Incumbent Mark Begich faced Attorney General Dan Sullivan. Begich, a first term Senator in a red state, voted for S. 744, the Senate guest worker amnesty bill, and has all red minuses in FAIR's 113th Congress Voting Report. (FAIR 113th Voting Report-Senate) Sullivan meanwhile denounced the Obama administration's "lawless" approach declared, "We are a nation of laws." (Alaska Dispatch News, Aug. 27, 2014)

These races — just a sample of the many out there — show how immigration played a role in the outcome of the elections. Stay tuned for more election analysis. FAIR will update this page with exit polling as we get it.

November 5, 2014