Xenophobia, Partisanship, and Support for Donald Trump and the Republican Party

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During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump distinguished himself from other candidates via his hardline stances on issues of immigration. Using data from national surveys conducted between 2014 and 2019, we identify three key findings about views of immigrants among the American public during the Trump era. First, xenophobia was the strongest predictor of Americans’ feelings—anger, fear, pride, and hope—about Donald Trump during his time in office, and the second strongest predictor of feelings about the Republican party (after partisan identification). Second, the influence of Americans’ levels of xenophobia on their feelings about the Republican Party were significantly mediated by their feelings about Trump, especially for negative affect (anger and fear). Third, there has been a backlash against xenophobia, such that political independents and Democrats became significantly more favorable toward immigrants after 2016. As a result, views of immigrants have become more favorable overall, but also more politically polarized. These findings support and extend immigration backlash theory, contribute to research on affective polarization, and document consequential trends in contemporary American politics.