Last week, in response to many years of contentious rhetoric and political wrangling over America’s vexing immigration policies, President Barack Obama issued a sweeping executive order aimed at bringing out of the shadows certain undocumented immigrants who have shown to be productive, contributing members of society.
While the President’s action does not, as of yet, provide a path to citizenship or permanent legal residency to anyone who is in the country illegally, it will effectively shield as many as five million undocumented immigrants from deportation, provided they meet certain criteria, such as having children who are United States citizens and not committing any crimes.
Initial research indicates that Obama’s executive action is very popular among voters who reside in big cities and equally unpopular among those in exurbs and rural areas. The place where American voters are most equally divided in their opinion is in the urban suburbs, particularly large ones. Not only are they divided in opinion, but suburban areas also are home to the highest percentage of undecided voters regarding Obama’s immigration move.
How the President handles the fallout from his controversial action in the coming months is expected to make a big impact on the direction in which suburban voters ultimately lean. Not only will this affect Obama’s legacy as president, but it could play a big role in shaping the dynamics of the 2016 presidential race.
How Surroundings Shape Voting Trends
- Big city voters’ support of President Obama’s executive action on immigration is in keeping with their support of the President, as well as with Democratic principles as a whole, in general.
- Forty-eight percent of these voters approved of the President’s action, compared to 31 percent who opposed it and 21 percent who were undecided or gave no answer.
- This aligns with the 30 percentage point margin by which big city voters chose President Obama over his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in the 2012 presidential election.
- As much as big city voters favor the President and his policies, voters in exurbs and rural areas are even more against them. Only 36 percent of them gave their nod of approval to his action on immigration, while a full 56 percent disapproved and 8 percent were undecided or abstained from answering.
- Exurban and rural polling data from the 2012 election mirrored these results: Mitt Romney was the huge favorite the further away from the city core one traveled.
From this analysis emerges an obvious demographic trend. That is, urban cores are largely Democratic while away from the city lights is Republican territory. It’s the space in between — the suburbs — that is up for grabs. The current immigration debate and how it plays out could have a big role in determining which camp is able to stake out the suburbs as its territory going forward.
2016 Strategies Ride on the Suburbs
If suburbanites, largely balanced in opinion or undecided on Obama’s immigration action in the current, subsequently make a large shift to one side or the other in the coming months, this could present a massive conundrum for the 2016 presidential hopefuls.
For example, let’s say suburban voters, after digesting the rhetoric from both sides and forming firm opinions, decide they are in favor of President Obama acting unilaterally to start reforming our immigration policies. Should this happen, Republican candidates would be forced to tread this ground very gingerly if they want any shot at the White House.
If not careful, these candidates could be forced into proclaiming a stance on immigration that either alienates suburban voters — an immensely important demographic due to their sheer numbers — or on the other end of the spectrum, repels their conservative base.
In contrast, should suburbanites turn against the President’s immigration plan, a similar quandary is presented for Democratic presidential hopefuls.
By aligning themselves with the President in his plan, they risk losing valuable suburban support. But should they repudiate any action, unilateral or not, that has been taken with the intent of reforming immigration policy, they could alienate their liberal constituents and more importantly, the large and growing base of Hispanic voters in America.
Clearer Answers to Come
An important distinction to make is that opinion polls regarding Obama’s immigration action were taken just before he issued the executive order. At that point, all its details, which undoubtedly have the potential to sway public opinion, had not been revealed to the public.
Subsequent polls taken in the coming weeks, after voters have had the chance to digest the details of the plan, will better illuminate how the public feels, particularly those in that all-important suburban bloc.