The Polarisation of Immigration: Education, Discourse and the Awakening of the Marketing Monster in the US

Posted on Posted in Analyses, International Developments, Migration

By Niko Costantino, Analyst KEDISA

As Trump’s administration faces Congress confrontation on immigration policy, a Gallup report has recently highlighted a discrepancy between high educated and less educated Republicans and Democrats in their attitudes towards Trump’s immigration manifesto. Indeed, the divide between high educated and less educated politicians is quite the same for both Republicans and Democrats: about one third are high educated, while the less educated correspond to the remaining two thirds.

Trump’s extremist policy on immigration – see the Muslim ban, undocumented migrant deportation, US-Mexico border wall – is prospecting important changes for the US migration issues. In fact, as the report shows, extremist instances are far more present within the less educated part of both Republicans and Democrats. While both high and less educated Republicans favour the construction of the Mexico border wall, the less educated Republicans who express “strong favour” for the wall double the high educated Republicans with the same opinion. On the other side, both less and high educated Democrats strongly oppose the construction of such wall – respectively 83 and 95%.

What is overall noteworthy is that rarely had a US president faced such strong opposition on a pivotal aspect of his campaign by the members of the other party – which mirrors a similarly polarised American society.

Most notably, the polarisation of immigration comes as an inversion of tendency in the United States. Di Maggio et al. (1996) had suggested that “Americans have become more united in […] their acceptance of racial integration”.  Evans (2003) reports the same tendency, and even a de-polarisation of more migration-related indicators such as geographical provenience and religious affiliation. Fiorina (2005) interestingly suggests that cultural wars commonly referred by media were a fictional, partisan construction. Indeed, it would be the political elite and the party affiliates to be polarised between themselves.

A similar situation could be recognised in today’s immigration debate, however, Trump’s campaign in this merit was polarising itself, and received a strong popular support. Trump’s polarised policy on immigration was a manifesto of his run for presidency – a clear singularity compared to the past. The result is polarisation is not an elite and partisan construction, but an unequivocal expression of a great portion of electorate’s sentiment. Seeing the Republican scepticism on Trump’s policies, for once, common people seem more polarised than their correspondent parties.

Trump has not only introduced a new level in US immigration policy making, he has taken the whole political system to explore new possibilities and new discourses. Democrats, in view of such a widely supported extremist opponent, are urged to reshape their propagandas. The concretisation of mass anti-immigration policies comes as an unprecedented event in post-Soviet politics, polarising the positions over this matter.

Most notably, the polarisation of immigration comes as an inversion of tendency in the United States. Di Maggio et al. (1996) had suggested that “Americans have become more united in […] their acceptance of racial integration”.  Evans (2003) reports the same tendency, and even a de-polarisation of more migration-related indicators such as geographical provenience and religious affiliation.

The situation of political polarisation over immigration and the educational situation depicted by Gallup raises a question: is there a correlation between the polarisation of immigration and the level of education of senators? With the report data, it would be tempting to argue that higher educated leaders are more prone to integrationist policies because their cultural background provides them with tolerance and judgement. “Educational institutions are regarded as vital propagators of the democratic creed” (Jackman & Muha 1984). However, recognising that education is the learning tool of tolerance will not guarantee that well educated political leaders will actually be tolerant individuals, involving such a clear ethical difference between well and less educated leaders. What we can rather conclude is that better educated people are better trained and have a greater awareness of how not to sound bigoted and racist thanks to the tolerant education they receive – which they may well reject (Jackman & Muha, 1984).

An overview of the available literature suggests that polarisation is well congenital to American politics and, one would think, western democratic politics in general. Arguably, the political system strategically deploys events that can have a greater echo on the public and can make the electorate identify with a particular party or candidate, as Burke’s identification theory explains. It is a norm of political marketing. Topics gain momentum according to their exploitability, more than their urgency. It was true in the US back when Federalists and Jeffersonian-Republicans were polarised over tariffs. Democrats and Republicans were polarised on slavery in the 1850s, agrarian and currency issues in the 1890s, the social welfare issues surrounding the New Deal in the 1930s, and civil rights in the 1960s (Sundquist 1983, Carmines & Stimson 1989). And it is true today with the obsessive stance that partisan politics have taken towards the immigration issue, backed by the jihadist and terrorist trend. Party polarisation is the mean of survival of the modern partisan system itself. And the United States are experiencing its extreme consequences.

Trump seems to have made common people more polarised between themselves than the political elite is and, in doing so, it seems the monster of political marketing has finally come out of the box. After decades of fictional debate where politics personified in role-playing hyperbolic masks, rather than politicians, the triumph of Trump’s policies is only the son of American-style politics, testimony of the electorate’s fascination by the spell of sophism.



Baldassarri D., Bearman P., Dynamics of Political Polarization, American Sociological Review.

Burke K., A Rhetoric of Motives, 1969, University of California Press, Berkley – Los Angeles.

Carmines E.G., Stimson J.A., Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics, 1989, Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Di Maggio P., Evans J.W., Bryson B., Have Americans’ Social Attitudes Become More Polarized?, 1996 American Journal of Sociology.

Evans J.W., Have Americans’ Attitudes Become More Polarized? An Update, 2003, Social Science Quarterly.

Harrop M., Political Marketing, Parliamentary Affairs, 1990, 43:3, pp. 277-291.

Jackman M., Muha M.J., Education and Intergroup Attitudes: Moral Enlightenment, Superficial Democratic Commitment or Ideological Refinement? American Sociological Review, 1984, 49: 751.

Jackman M., General and Applied Tolerance: Does Education Increase Commitment to Racial Education?, American Journal of Political Science 22 (1978), pp. 302­324.

Jackman M., Education and Policy Commitment to Racial Education, American Journal of Political Science, 25 (1981), pp, 256­269.

Layman G.C., Carsey T.M., Menasce Horowitz J., Party Polarization in American Politics: Characteristics, Causes, and Consequences, Annual Review of Political Science, 2006, 9:83-110.

Sundquist J.L., Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States, 1983, Washington, DC: Brookings Inst.

Tarrance L., Can a ‘Nation of Immigrants’ Reform 21st-Century Immigration?, Gallup, 07.03.2017,