Immigration Reform: The Midterm Issue

As I write this blog, immigration reform is being debated and discussed on television, newspapers and social media. Interest in the issue ballooned in 2014 when President Obama took Congress to task for failing to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill and warned that this would force him use the powers of the executive branch to address the problem. On November 20, 2014 President Obama did that just that: he announced a new set of executive orders providing deportation relief to millions of undocumented immigrants who had long waited for Congress to act.

But immigration reform isn’t an issue ex novo. President Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, experienced a surge of support and a near victory when he pushed Congress to pass a bill providing a pathway to legalization for millions of undocumented immigrants. He tried to tackle the issue twice, with bills introduced in 2005 and 2007. Public interest in the issue peaked in 2006, near the last midterm election of President Bush’s presidency.


The next spike in public interest in comprehensive immigration reform occurred during President Obama’s 2010 midterm elections, according to Google trends that monitor search history. Google also shows that the latest surge began just before the 2014 midterms. Meanwhile, according to Gallup, in the last four presidential elections, immigration was the most important issue to only 2 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent and 2 percent of those polled.

The question then becomes: what makes midterm elections, as opposed to presidential election cycles, the hotbed of the immigration debate? Most obviously, media outlets transfer attention and coverage from the President to Congress during this time, as they’re up for re-election and he’s not. Still, the sitting president’s input definitely affects how the issue is discussed. Gallup polls support what Google trend results show – that immigration reform suddenly becomes more important to voters during the midterms. In the last three midterm elections, immigration was the most important issue for 19 percent, 10 percent and 17 percent of those polled. But why – why is immigration more important during midterm than during presidential elections? It could be that those polled during the midterms may be more politically active, serial voters. It could be American voters and the media hold Congress more responsible for immigration reform, or it could be an issue that candidates expect to turn out voters.

Pundits and voters across America characterized the midterm elections of 2014 as a wave year for the Republican Party. This red wave even washed over into Nevada, where the results have been noticeable and newsworthy. Just last week, newly elected Attorney General Adam Laxalt joined a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas opposing the President’s executive orders as “unconstitutional.

Reeling from Attorney General Laxalt’s decision, Nevada’s immigrants wait to see what will come of this wave and its effects on policy. It seems important now more than ever to investigate why midterm elections turn immigration into such a key issue for so many voters – and how we can then help the right candidates take up the charge for reform.