How Trump Has Managed to Dumb Down the Immigration Debate

New evidence sugggests Donald Trump's ignorant and devisive rhetoric on immigration parallels the political discourse on Twitter, suggesting that the bloviating of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee may have an impact on how the immigration debate unfolds.


In collaboration with MIT Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines, Fusion explored a correlation between Trump’s campaign and an increase in Twitter discussions around aspects of the immigration debate, including mass deportation and Trump’s promise to build a “great wall” along the southern border of the United States.

Meanwhile, during that same period, mentions of comprehensive immigration reform decreased during Trump’s political rise. The findings suggest Trump is having a direct impact on the immigration debate, ultimately turning people’s attention away from practical, bipartisan solutions and toward platitudes and rhetorical nonsense.

Analyzing a data plot comparing Twitter mentions of offering undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship with Trump’s threat to build a wall, the researchers found a significant decrease in comprehensive immigration reform between May and July 2015, directly correlating with Trump’s announcement on June 16, 2015, that he would seek the Republican nomination for president of the United States.

Talk of comprehensive immigration reform peaked in 2013 after the House of Representatives failed to pass the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which was intended to “modernize and streamline our current legal immigration system, while creating a tough but fair legalization program for individuals who are currently here.”

A year later, the immigration debate once again focused on providing a pathway to citizenship; in November 2014, President Obama issued several executive actions on immigration, offering deportation relief to 5 million undocumented immigrants. The Obama administration is currently fighting for those reforms in the Supreme Court.

Prior to Trump entering the race, Fusion reports “28 percent of election-related Twitter chatter about immigration focused on an idea of a pathway to citizenship,” making it the most-discussed immigration-related topic on the popular social networking service. Likewise, fewer than 2 percent of immigration-related discussions on Twitter focused on building a wall.

But in July 2015, the conversation flipped, with talk of illegal immigrants, mass deportation and building a southern border wall dominating the political discourse, while comprehensive immigration reform and pathways to citizenship all but disappeared from the Twitterverse.

Twitter mentions of mass deportation spiked in August 2015, after Trump promised would enact a “deportation force” to send back 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living int he United States. As Fusion reports, “in September, [mass deportation] even topped the chart briefly as the most-discussed election-related immigration topic.”

Similarly, as Trump’s pro-wall rhetoric increasingly dominated politics in late 2015, 18 percent of all immigration talk on Twitter focused on building a southern border wall, making it the most discussed immigration topic on Twitter. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of immigration-related mentions discussed a pathway to citizenship.

And the trend continues even as the remaining candidates pivot toward the general election; in May, MIT’s Media Lab recorded 22 percent of immigration-related policy talk on Twitter focuses on the wall, while only 2 percent mentions comprehensive immigration policies, including a pathway to citizenship.

It’s clear Trump's haranguing about building a wall and kicking out 11 million people resonates with Twitter users, successfully dominating the political conversation, while sensible solutions fall to the wayside. As the election continues, it remains to be seen whether a comprehensive, bipartisan solution can once again ignite interest on social media, or if Trump’s reductive, anti-immigrant policies continue to monopolize the debate.

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