UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The causes and consequences of candidate immigration rhetoric in US congressional elections, 2012-2018 Frangipane, Bret


Since the 1990s, the issue of immigration in US politics has undergone a notable political transition. Though cross-partisan through much of the twentieth century, immigration is now one of the most salient and divisive issues in US politics. Due to immigration’s salience, issue ownership theory offers insights into how candidates might interact with immigration, particularly that candidates would focus on issues that their party owns rather than compete on common issues to gain votes. Using immigration campaign ad data from US congressional general election campaigns from 2012 to 2018, this paper challenges issue ownership theory and instead supports an alternative ‘policy preference theory’ that centers voters’ policy preferences. Ad data shows a substantial increase in campaign immigration rhetoric among both parties, though Republicans are more likely to use immigration rhetoric than Democrats. Candidates in general are more likely to use immigration rhetoric when the district Latino population favors their party. Breaking from leadership’s rhetorical embrace of expansionary policies, Democrat as well as Republican candidates more often used anti-immigration than either ambiguous- or pro- immigration rhetoric, though Republican candidates did so more heavily. Rather than hurt candidates, preliminary evidence suggests that trespassing the party’s immigration stance can increase election margins in unfavorable districts. Regression analyses also reveal that Latino population size influences candidate immigration stance in predictable ways. This study provides insights into the political influence of Latino populations, the effects of campaign advertising, and the electoral incentives that influence candidate immigration rhetoric.

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