WASHINGTON (TND) — Transporting migrants from Texas to Democratic-led cities and states has thrown immigration and the situation at the southern border into the spotlight as Republicans try to make it a prominent issue in their bid to regain control of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently chartered two flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard for about 50 Venezuelan migrants. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has sent 1,800 migrants to Washington. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has also bused migrants from Texas to Chicago, New York City and Washington for months. Two busloads of people sent to Washington were dropped off outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence.
It’s the latest effort from Republicans to regain momentum ahead of Election Day after the fallout from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade helped Democrats improve their standing with voters. In immigration and border security, Republicans have an issue they perform better with the public on than Democrats and can shift some of the conversation away from abortion with tactics that draw a lot of media attention.
“Immigration and border security are key issues this cycle which fit into the theme about a concern about crime, lawlessness, and a general sense of personal security being at risk,” said Bradley Honan, a Democratic pollster and strategist. “The GOP knows how to weaponize these issues against Democrats and make political hay among moderate, middle of the road, Independent and nonpolitical party aligned voters. These are highly emotive issues that lend themselves very, very well to negative campaigning and attack TV ads.”
Whether the approach of sending people across the country via bus or plane will pay off remains to be seen. Polling conducted since the trips have started has mostly found support for it break down by partisanship.
In a CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker poll conducted last week, 87% of Republicans approved of sending migrants to Democratic parts of the country. Independents were more evenly split with 48% approving the practice, compared to just 20% of Democrats.
Where it has shown some success is moving immigration up priority lists for independents, whose votes will be crucial for either party to win a majority in the House or Senate. In August, 50% of independents said immigration was very important to their vote for Congress. Now, that figure has increased to 57%.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Sept. 21-22 also found a partisan divide on transporting migrants to other states or Washington. It also showed signs the practice could backfire among some voters.
Twenty-nine percent of Americans surveyed said they supported it. Over half of Republicans were supportive, but only 22% of independents and 16% of Democrats agreed.
Even fewer supported states using tax dollars to pay for the travel. Seventy-six percent of all Americans were opposed to using tax dollars on the transports. Republicans were most likely to support the use of taxpayer funds at 35%, followed by 19% of independents and 18% of Democrats.
The outrage from Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents could also help energize voters and backfire against the GOP.
“Latino voters are poised to be the decisive swing voters in November 2022 midterm elections, and the GOP may have made a crucial misstep by politicizing the plight of these people’s lives,” Honan said. “The GOP needs a low-energy environment among Democrats, so they don’t turn out – now abortion, Trump, and abusing migrants is in the national dialog, and these issues are getting Democrats more animated.”
Republicans’ recent push to highlight immigration and the border is connected with another issue they hope will be top-of-mind for voters heading to the ballot box: crime. GOP candidates have attacked Democrats and progressive prosecutors for being “soft on crime” amid an uptick in various types of violent crimes in some of America’s largest cities.
Voters are generally more receptive to Republican policies on crime, which is reflected in public polling and a weak spot for Democrats.
The CBS/YouGov poll found 38% of voters said Republican policies make them feel safer from violent crime, compared to 29% who said Democrats. A third said both parties or neither made them feel safer.
“Democrats need to make sure they have parity with the GOP on issues of crime and border security,” Honan said. “Democrats cannot just be against Trump’s wall – they need to communicate a strong immigration/ strong border message than is fair and recognizes that human life on both sides of the border is on the line.”