There was an article that talks about how Republicans tend to gain from immigrants. It talks about low-skilled immigrants driving native voters to Republicans: "Non-urban, low-skill counties with high local public spending strongly increased their Republican vote share in response to low-skilled immigration." It is also worth noting that many of the heavily immigrant neighborhoods that shifted towards Trump in the 2020 presidential race have lower than average education levels. This was a shift that occurred within immigrant communities themselves.

However, I noticed Trump and other Republican figures that are critical of immigration are trying to push an idea called "merit based" immigration. Why would this be an issue? Republicans have been talking about how from their view immigrants and Democrats have an alliance, and most immigrants who show up to vote support Democrats at the ballot box. (This is true, but they are also more likely to identify as independent or nonpartisan. In addition this is why I am asking this question.)

What is the motivation for talking about merit-based immigration if it removes or reduces types of immigrants that drive native-born towards Republicans as well as ones Republicans gained more with particularly in the 2020 presidential race?

  • I don't really understand the reasoning behind this question... Are you asking why a political party might pursue a policy that is popular to its constituents, rather than letting the opposition party take a policy that will drive dissatisfied voters to itself? Because one explanation for this behavior is that perhaps Rep voters do see a benefit in attracting high wage, high tax paying immigrants that they believe can be expected not to burden welfare system? Why would they necessarily object? Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 20:31

1 Answer 1


Why are Republicans pushing merit-based immigration if the types of immigrants favored seem to cause more damage to Republicans electorally?

They don't. It appears that you may have misread the MarketWatch article to which you linked, which in turn appears to have misread the underlying white paper.

That white paper refers rather loosely to "native" voters. It is clear the authors are not referring to Native Americans when the authors write about "natives". The authors write

... we need to analyze three groups of individuals. First is the group of natives who constitute in all states the majority of voters. Second is the group of citizen immigrants who can vote and may have different electoral preference from natives. Finally is the group of non-citizen immigrants who cannot vote but whose presence may affect the vote of citizens.

Native Americans do not constitute the majority of voters in any state (Alaska is the highest, with about 20% Native Americans), so that is not the group the authors are referring to when they use "natives". They are instead using the term to refer to US citizens who were born in the US.

Native voters in non-urban areas with low wages and with a low level of education (associates degree at most) perceive even modest rates of low wage immigration as a threat to their way of life. These native voters tend to perceive Democratic officials as the cause of their woes. This is one of many reasons Republicans have been faring much better amongst what used to be a stronghold of the Democratic party.

Native voters in urban areas with high tech jobs, high tech wages, and a high level of education (bachelors degree, or more) perceive even moderate rates of high wage immigration as a threat to their way of life. These native voters tend to perceive Republican officials as the cause of their woes. This is one of many reasons Democrats have been faring much better amongst what used to be a stronghold of the Republican party.

It's all about perception, and about lost causes. The Republican party perceives those urban dwelling people with high tech jobs as a lost cause; they already vote predominantly for Democratic candidates, so pissing them off (aka "owning the libs") is not a problem. On the other hand, advocating for restrictions on low wage immigration (e.g., "merit-based immigration"), at least for now, fits nicely into the Republican playbook.

  • Do you have a source for your two claims that a) rural, low-income low-education voters fear low wage immigration and b) urban high-income high education voters fear high wage immigration? Especially the latter does not match my perception at all but I don't have a source either.
    – quarague
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 15:47

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