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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Immigration-Health Care Nexus Still Challenges Dems

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

Two things are clear about the 2024 campaign at this point. One is that Biden is still trailing Trump: he’s behind nationally in both the RCP and 538 running averages, as well as in every single swing state. The other is that his two great vulnerabilities are the economy/inflation and immigration, generally the two most important issues to voters. Indeed the latter now sometimes eclipses the former in importance as it has in the Gallup poll for the last three months.

Immigration was very important in the 2016 election as well. One way David Shor frequently illustrated the dynamic in 2016 relative to 2012 was with a simple two by two table illustrating that the big swing toward Trump in 2016 was among voters who both (1) supported universal health insurance and (2) opposed “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Put simply, Obama did way better than Hillary Clinton among voters who were both populist/progressive on health care and conservative-leaning on immigration.

Could we see the same dynamic this year, with Trump making decisive gains among such voters? The basis for it certainly seems to be there. It has been widely noted that not only has the immigration issue become more salient but also that voters are now open to a wide range of tough approaches to dealing with the illegal immigration problem. Some of the relevant findings were reviewed by the Post’s Aaron Blake in an article, “Harsh deportation tools are just fine with many Americans.” And a recent Axios poll found a majority of the public supporting mass deportations of illegal immigrants, including a shocking 42 percent of Democrats.

Findings from a brand new poll of over 4,000 voters from The Liberal Patriot and Blueprint confirm this pattern of support for tough measures against illegal immigration. My analysis of the data also shows an enormous overlap between these conservative leanings on illegal immigration and strong support for populist/progressive measures on health care. These cross-pressured voters could play a decisive role in November’s election just as they did in the 2016 election.

Here is what I found:

1. The TLP/Blueprint poll tested 40 different policy ideas associated with the Biden and Trump campaigns. The strongest issues for Biden were generally proposals around health care, most of which were wildly popular. One example was, “Increase the number of prescription drugs that Medicare can negotiate the price of for seniors.” The proposal was supported by 81 percent of voters with just 6 percent opposed for a cool 75 points net support. Those who supported the proposal also supported using “existing presidential powers to stop illegal migrant crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border” by 57 points (72-15).

2. Similarly, supporters of more Medicare price negotiation on prescription drugs also supported deputizing “the National Guard and local law enforcement to assist with rapidly removing gang members and criminals living illegally in the United States” by 46 points (67-21).

3. Nor do these Medicare price negotiation supporters blink at the idea that we should “restrict the ability of migrants who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum.” They support this proposal by 40 points (63-23).

4. More draconian proposals on dealing with illegal immigration also generate solid support among those favoring a stronger Medicare role on prescription drug prices. For example, these pro-Medicare populists favor the idea that we should simply, “Round up undocumented immigrants, detain, and deport them to their home countries” by 24 points (58-24).

5. The pro-Medicare populists also favor building “a full wall on the US-Mexico border” by 20 points, with 56 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed. They even think it would be a good idea to “change federal law so that drug traffickers can receive the death penalty” (55-33)!

6. A similar dynamic can be observed in some other areas of Democratic vulnerability. Among supporters of an increased Medicare role in prescription drug pricing, we also find overwhelming support for increasing “funding for police and strengthen[ing] criminal penalties for assaulting cops” (72 percent to 17 percent).

7. It is also interesting that some aspects of Democratic approaches to climate/energy issues fit this pattern. For instance, our pro-Medicare populists net oppose requiring “auto companies to sell more electric vehicles after 2030” (45-40). They also are narrowly in favor of repealing “subsidies for clean energy and electric vehicles” (41-40).

8. I also looked at another super-popular Biden health care idea, “Require pharmaceutical companies to charge American consumers the lowest price they charge consumers in foreign countries” and the related super-popular proposal, “Protect Medicare and Social Security from funding cuts or increases in the age of eligibility.” You see the exact same pattern: voters who support these populist ideas overwhelmingly want a much tougher approach to illegal immigration.

These cross-pressures then are very real, just as they were in 2016, and are undoubtedly undermining Democrats’ ability to capitalize on their immensely popular health care proposals. Could these pressures produce the kind of shift in 2024 relative to 2020 that so helped Trump in 2016? The basis is certainly there.

I looked at support/opposition to increasing the Medicare role in prescription drug pricing and support/opposition to the most popular proposal for cracking down on illegal immigration, using the president’s executive powers to directly stop illegal crossing at the southern border. I found that, comparing reported vote in 2020 to expressed vote preference today, the big shift toward Trump occurs precisely among those who both support an aggressive Medicare role in drug pricing and support using presidential powers to stop illegal border crossing.

There’s a lesson there for Democrats should they care to take it. Apparently, the idea of using Biden’s executive powers to stop illegal border crossing is under consideration at the White House, but, predictably, nothing has happened yet in the face of fierce opposition from the usual suspects. The recent decline in illegal border crossings from insanely high to merely very high (due to a crackdown in Mexico not by US authorities) may also be breeding some complacency about the issue in Biden-land despite the scathing message sent by the polls.

This seems unwise. Especially since the ace in the hole the Biden campaign was counting on— voter appreciation of the strong economy finally kicking in—may turn out to be only a deuce. Both the Michigan consumer sentiment index and the Conference Board consumer confidence index went down last month and basically have made no progress since January. Morning in America it’s not.

The Democrats would appear to need all the help they can get. The immigration-health care nexus reviewed here suggests they may be leaving votes on the table by failing to take strong action on illegal immigration. The specter of the 2016 election looms over this campaign and, like a hanging, should concentrate the mind.

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