WASHINGTON — Foreign policy may make an appearance in the decisions of voters in the 2018 elections in the form of immigration and border security — with a wildcard being China, a panel of analysts suggested.
The midterm elections are scheduled for Nov. 6, with some foreign policy related issues riding the potential to drive voter participation, the panelists said.
“Immigration and gangs like MS-13, I think that does connect with a political force in this country, it does resonate with voters,” Rich Dearborn of the Cypress Group said during the panel discussion on Tuesday.
The discussion was hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
“It’s not a driver (to the polls on its own) but one the president can point to,” Dearborn said.
Foreign policy impact on U.S. elections varies by cycle and world events, often framed if and where U.S. forces may be deployed in combat. China’s tariffs this year, for example, could raise negatives for President Donald Trump — but perhaps not have any direct impact on House and State races.
However, if each party positions on an issue like immigration are strident and connecting, it could energize elements to ensure voting, the panel said.
“It is border security for Republicans, comprehensive immigration reform and DACA for Democrats,” said Myra Miller of the Winston Group, a strategy and research firm.
Polls often show that protecting American jobs and terrorism are regularly among the top concerns of voters, panel members noted. If parties can tie foreign policy decisions to those themes, they may be able to inject foreign policy in a state or local race, the panel members said.
For example, while the Chinese tariffs could have a negative impact on affected voters, the fact that Trump appears to be standing up to China could motivate support from various Asian-American constituencies, panel members said.
“That he stood up for these countries, such as Vietnam and Japan, against China, I have not thought of how that plays with Vietnamese-American and Japanese-American voters,” said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.,). “Republicans have been losing the Asian vote worse than the Hispanic vote.”
Karlyn Bowman of AEI said that by Trump framing foreign policy issues point on the national interest can offset lackadaisical voter interest on such things as democracy building abroad.
Panelists said Trump has pushed a “practical foreign policy” based on U.S. interests, a position that a significant group of voters embrace. “He (Trump) tapped into a belief system that is going to be out there a long time,” Miller said.
Davis said in the 2016 election that a quarter of the electorate made up their minds in the last weeks of the campaign and most went to Trump. Something like a clash at the border could “cause some voters to swing one way or the other,” Davis said.