Demographic Change, Latino Countermobilization, and the Politics of Immigration in US Senate Campaigns

Date01 December 2017
Published date01 December 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(4) 735 –748
© 2017 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917713155
On October 9, just under a month before the 2014 mid-
term elections, Republican US Senate candidate Scott
Brown took to New Hampshire’s WGIR talk radio to
hammer home a central campaign theme: that “illegal”
immigrants were threatening America’s national security.
By October, generic anti-immigrant appeals had given
way to a far more dramatic style. Brown warned WGIR
listeners that undocumented immigrants with Ebola
might be crossing the US–Mexican border. “One of the
reasons I’ve been so adamant about closing our border,
because if people are coming through normal channels,
can you imagine what they can do through a porous bor-
der?” (Santana 2014). Nearly 2,000 miles west of New
Hampshire, Republican US Senate candidate Cory
Gardner ran an uphill battle against Democratic incum-
bent Senator Mark Udall in Colorado, a state with over
one million Latinos. Immigration appeals were conspicu-
ously absent from Gardner’s campaign. Given Colorado’s
proximity to the US–Mexican border, sizable Latino pop-
ulation, and frontier conservative roots, we might expect
immigration to emerge as a potent issue in Colorado, but
not in New Hampshire, a racially homogeneous state nes-
tled in New England. What explains these divergent
approaches to campaign messaging?
More specifically, under what conditions do politi-
cians politicize immigration in electoral campaigns? Past
research has examined the role of racial attitudes in elec-
toral campaigns (Mendelberg 2001; Tesler and Sears
2010), how immigration attitudes are formed (Brader,
Valentino, and Suhay 2008; Kinder and Kam 2010;
Nicholson 2012; Scheve and Slaughter 2001; Valentino,
Brader, and Jardina 2013), what drives variation in the
political salience of immigration (Brader, Valentino, and
Suhay 2008; Hopkins 2010; Newman, Hartman, and
Taber 2014), and the role that immigration plays in shap-
ing party coalitions (Hajnal and Rivera 2014), yet none
have examined the supply side of immigration appeals.
How are shifting demographics shaping modern political
Nearly every county in the United States has been
experiencing growing Latino populations over the last
several decades. Politicizing these demographic shifts, I
713155PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917713155Political Research QuarterlyReny
1University of California, Los Angeles, USA
Corresponding Author:
Tyler Reny, Department of Political Science, University of California,
Los Angeles, 4289 Bunche Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.
Demographic Change, Latino
Countermobilization, and the Politics
of Immigration in US Senate Campaigns
Tyler Reny1
Demographic changes from decades of mass immigration and shifts in internal migration patterns are upending the
traditional racial composition of many states throughout the United States, transforming the American electorate,
and increasing both the political salience of immigration and the racial salience of Latinos. Politicizing these visible
demographic shifts has become an increasingly common strategy by both Democrats and Republicans with potentially
significant electoral effects. While many have examined the impact of these demographic changes on dominant receiving
populations’ attitudes, few have examined how changing demographics are shaping immigration politics in electoral
campaigns. Specifically, under what conditions do political candidates politicize demographic change? I hypothesize
that both political and demographic considerations drive variation in immigration appeals. I test my hypotheses using
a novel dataset of candidate campaign websites from 2010, 2012, and 2014 US Senate primary and general elections.
I argue that racial party cleavages increase the electoral temptation of immigration appeals but it is the interaction
between state-level Latino population growth, electoral competition, and Latino voters that determines campaign
strategy more broadly and moderates the use of pro- and anti-immigrant appeals.
campaigns, elections, campaign appeals, immigration politics, demographic change, Latinos

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