Divided Dems, United Reps: Party strategy and within-party variation in immigration attitudes


In an era of high partisanship, salient issues have the potential to become flashpoints for both parties. Why, then, do parties not emphasize certain hot-button issues symmetrically? This paper argues that in order to answer this question, social scientists must study attitudes at three levels: (1) the aggregate, (2) between-party, and (3) within-party. Each level provides necessary information for understanding party strategy toward issues and the broader consequences of public opinion for institutional politics. Using several waves of ANES data between 1992 and 2016, I apply this analytic strategy to immigration—one of the most salient issues in U.S. and European politics—to understand why Democrats, unlike Republicans, have not touted immigration as a central issue of the party. The results suggest that Democrats may be reluctant to run on immigration because substantial intra-party disagreement make this strategy too risky; on the other hand, touting immigration poses little risk to a uniform Republican party and provides much upside in their potential to “wedge" a divided Democratic party. I conclude by discussing the consequences of within-party variation for our understanding of party coalitions and electoral strategy.  

Last updated on 10/19/2020