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While the economy, welfare, and foreign policy are the main fault lines along which elections are generally fought, border security was at the forefront in the 2016 elections. The terms border security and immigration are often used interchangeably in mainstream political discourse. Donald Trump famously made headlines in the run-up to the previous election regarding Mexico funding a wall along the US southern border to keep out Mexican immigrants. He promised to build a big, “beautiful” wall as high as the tower of Babylon that would keep drugs and crime out of the country. Four years later, almost none of the wall has been built, and border security is quickly becoming a hot topic ahead of the presidential nominations. But what do the American people think about immigration and border security? How concerned are they about these issues? How does it influence their voting behavior? This article covers such questions, and explains how border security could once again hold the key to victory in the 2020 elections.
A study by the Centre for Immigration Studies has claimed that Republican Mitt Romney would likely have done better in the 2012 elections had he campaigned more extensively for immigration control. The same study also suggests that border security divided opinion along party lines in 2016 more than any other election in US history. Furthermore, Republicans seem to be giving far more importance to this issue. Pew Research reports that 75 percent of GOP voters claimed that immigration is a big problem for the United States, while only 19 percent of Democratic voters agreed. That Trump won the 2016 election despite the overtly exclusionary nature of his rhetoric suggests is further proof that Republicans care deeply about border security.
In many ways, Trump’s border wall symbolizes why he won. Its truly unprecedented nature represents the anti-establishment advantage he had. While both candidates were considered untrustworthy, Donald Trump held the edge in terms of voter trust in key swing states. Studies show that people in these states trusted Trump more on national security, while they trusted Hillary Clinton on healthcare. Trust on the economy was split evenly between the two, and Trump’s hardline rhetoric is a large reason why he was trusted more on border security. This, again, shows that Trump’s rhetoric was effective in key parts of the country.
But even after two years in control of both houses, and three years into his presidency, Donald Trump has been unsuccessful in following through on his promise of a border wall. Despite discussion around the literal or metaphoric meaning of a “wall,” barriers are becoming increasingly common across the world. Europe has more barriers today as a result of the migrant crisis than it did during the Cold War. Trump’s failure to build the wall has resulted in several popular supporters, such as Ann Coulter, denouncing his campaign.
To make things worse, a poll shows that Americans now trust congressional democrats more than Trump on border policy. A sample of independents voted 50 percent in favor of Democrats, while only 37 percent chose Trump. The conflict over funding for the border wall led to the longest government shutdown in American history, and is a large reason behind the decline in support for Trump on this issue.
The good part, for Republicans, is that Trump is still president, and could majorly swing things in the upcoming months. The good part for Democrats is also that Trump is still president, since he will likely not survive inactivity on this issue, and any policy measures Trump takes are bound to cause sharply polarizing responses. It will either win him a re-election, or cause a spectacular disgrace.