When Rep. David Stringer made national news in June for saying “there aren’t enough white kids to go around” in public schools and that immigration is “an existential threat” to the United States, prominent Republicans distanced themselves from him. Some, like Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Lines, went so far as to call on him to resign for the nakedly racist comments.
The party and its adherents, after all, are chiefly concerned with economic issues like taxes and regulations, with limiting government involvement in people’s lives and with protecting constitutional rights (assuming those rights were explicitly spelled out by the founding fathers, naturally), came the argument from polite Republican circles, and Stringer is a rogue actor, not someone whose beliefs are commonplace within the party.
One wonders, then, what Republican leaders think about recent polling that shows Arizona Republican voters are primarily driven not by things like tax policy or gun rights or education or even Supreme Court appointments, but by immigration — and a belief that brown-skinned immigrants make their lives worse.
And the tougher and more inhumane Republican leaders can be against those same immigrants, the better.
A CBS News Battleground Tracker poll of 1,010 Arizona voters conducted by YouGov earlier this month grabbed some headlines for showing Democratic hopeful Kyrsten Sinema had a slim lead over her Republican opponent, Martha McSally.
But the most interesting data I saw was just how animating immigration issues are for Republicans.
For instance, 84 percent of the 405 Republicans surveyed said illegal immigration is “a big problem” in Arizona. Another 11 percent said it was “a minor problem.” Among respondents who said they were ideologically conservative (a pool of 405 voters), illegal immigration is “a big problem” for 87 percent.
Among a series of issues on which a candidate must agree with the voter in order to win their vote, Republicans were most adamant about immigration policies. Nearly 9 in 10 Republicans, 88 percent, said they wouldn’t vote for a candidate who disagreed with them on immigration issues; among conservatives, that tally rose to 90 percent.
Meanwhile, Democratic voters had almost identical motivation to support candidates who agreed with them on health care policy: 88 percent for Democrats, 89 percent for liberals.
No other issue was as critical for Republicans: not gun policy (80 percent GOP, 82 percent conservative), not taxes (73 percent and 72 percent), not health care (69 percent and 67 percent), not Supreme Court picks (67 percent and 72 percent).
And only 12 percent of Republicans and conservatives feel the Trump administration has gone too far with its policies on immigration. Republicans are evenly split (at 44 percent) that the policies are “about right” or, worse, “not tough enough.” Among the conservatives polled, 40 percent think Trump is doing enough on immigration, and 48 percent want him to be tougher.
That’s more than 2 of every 5 Republicans and nearly 1 in every 2 conservatives who think that setting roadblocks to limit legal immigration, banning people from entering the U.S. on the basis of their Muslim faith, creating a chilling effect among immigrants who are legally entitled to access government services, ripping young children from their mothers’ arms, having 5-year-olds who don’t speak English sign away their rights and rounding up law-abiding people who have been in the country for decades so they can be deported isn’t adequate, because it’s too damn nice.
No doubt they’re relieved to learn that the Trump administration is exploring how it can once again begin separating children and their parents at the border.
But what sets the YouGov poll apart from other public polling done in the state is that it goes beyond simply gauging how Arizonans feel about immigration and other issues. It asks a question that eviscerates the argument that race is in no way a factor, and that Republican efforts to crack down on immigration (illegal and legal) are driven by a pursuit of law and order: “In your view, over recent years, have recent immigrants from Mexico and Latin America made life in the state of Arizona better, worse, or not had an impact either way?”
The answers to this question lay bare the notion that Arizona’s Republicans and conservatives are welcoming to Latinos: 65 percent of Republicans said Arizona is worse because of Latino immigrants, and only 12 percent said the state is better. (Among conservatives, 67 percent said the state is worse off.)
Census data from 2017 shows 62 percent of the state’s foreign-born population is from Latin America — roughly 570,000 people. Of all the Arizona residents born outside the U.S., 43 percent of them are U.S. citizens.
Two of every three conservatives think these Spanish-speaking immigrants — all-inclusive, not merely those who are undocumented — are ruining Arizona. Nevermind that our state is steeped in Latino culture, and was once part of Mexico.
That this is the case shouldn’t be surprising, perhaps, given that Trump has spent his presidency actively stoking civil tensions, many along racial fronts. Thanks to the intrepid journalists who cover the White House, we know he has done so in order to please conservatives.
Like when he felt “vindicated” at the outrage that came from saying there were good people on both sides of the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Or when he pardoned Joe Arpaio, convicted of defying a court that ordered him to stop violating the civil rights of Latinos. Or attacking prominent black athletes who are protesting systemic racism.
The poll, after all, found that 83 percent of Arizona Republicans and 82 percent of conservatives are happy with the job Trump is doing.
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