University of Wisconsin–Madison

US Political Parties, Polarization, and Immigration

Guest lecturer Barry Burden, Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin Madison and Director of Elections Research Center at the University, offered his expertise on political parties, public opinion, US elections to understand and situate immigration in that context.

Burden discussed the stark comparison between the two dominant US political parties over the last couple of years. In the last 20 years there has been a significant change and differentiation between democrat and republican views on different issues Americans are facing or are concerned about.

In reference to the Republican loss of 2012 election – the party ran a report to find out what went wrong in the 2012 election and how they could get back to being the majority party. What they found was that they needed to soften their views on immigration and reach out to Hispanic voters. From then to the 2016 election the feedback from the 2012 election was vastly undermined.

In the 2016 election, the Democrats approach the issue of immigration through a humane perspective with an ultimately a path to citizenship. The Republican platform; however, approached immigration by rejecting amnesty and enforcing immigration laws and framing immigrants as dangerous criminals. Thus, showing how the parties are as far as they have ever been.

The political parties have been moving apart on a whole range of issues and have become more and more polarized so that it becomes hard for any issue to escape polarization and to be treated in neutral or overlapping perspective as it used to be two decades ago.

People get their information from the leaders of their own political parties, in these cases, people trust the party leaders who provide them with cues of the positions they ought to be taking and agreeing with. Similarly, this seems to be the case with the issue on Immigration and the Republicans. Though when campaigning, many Republicans did not agree with Trump’s opinions, they have since come around to rationalize his actions and opinions on a lot of issues like immigration.

Though immigration rates have been increasing in recent years the majority of Americans have become more supportive on immigration, which seems to reflect a disconnect between what the public thinks and what the government is doing.

In this year’s election, Immigration appears to be an issue for voters, specifically for the Republican side, but not so much for the Democrats. Burden explains that there seems to be a distinction between democrats and republicans. Republicans rate immigration as a top issue, and since Republicans’ care about very few key topics and immigration is one of them, then it will have a heavyweight when they vote. However, this is not the case for the Democrats, since Democrats care about a lot of different things- immigration gets a bit lost and is not an issue that weighs heavily when Democrats vote.

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