Posted on October 16, 2020

Immigration Was a Dominant Issue in the 2016 Election, but Not This Time

Hannah Miao, CNBC, October 13, 2020

Three words echoed throughout Donald Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign: “Build the wall.”

Then, as president, Trump made immigration and border security defining issues of his administration.

Yet immigration has taken a back seat on the 2020 campaign trail. It barely came up during the presidential debate with Democrat Joe Biden or the vice presidential debate featuring Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris.


“The president’s responses to COVID-19 and the Supreme Court vacancy have overshadowed immigration because those issues are more pressing and recent in people’s minds,” David Bier, an immigration policy analyst for libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, said in an email.

Polls tell the same story. According to a CNBC/Change Research national survey earlier this month, only 15% of voters said immigration was a top issue for them, compared with 40% and 39% for the economy and Covid-19, respectively. {snip}

Trump also has already solidified his standing as a president who’s tough on immigration, from his travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries to his contentious family separation policy at the border.


Instead, Trump’s immigration platform has blended with his “law and order” agenda.


In turn, Biden occupies a precarious position where he has to appeal to more moderate voters concerned about public safety without alienating voters in his party who view the president’s law-and-order rhetoric as fear mongering.


“The president certainly would like immigration to become more of an issue,” Bier said. “He wants to claim that his closing of the borders protected Americans from the virus and economic collapse… {snip}”

The Trump campaign said immigration remains a priority for the president on multiple fronts.

“Immigration is a critical issue in this election, and President Trump believes that immigration is not only a national security issue but an economic one, especially as America continues to reopen,” said Ken Farnaso, deputy national press secretary for Trump’s campaign.