How Clinton can turn the immigration debate against Trump

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Latino supporters of Hillary Clinton hold a sign saying ‘I’m with her’ written in Spanish at a campaign rally, in Miami, Florida.As the presidential race tightens, the first debate, set to take place on September 26, looms large. And while questions about each candidate’s temperament and preparedness for office will surely come up, there is no doubt that the debate will also address what has become Donald Trump’s signature issue, immigration.

Compared to Trump, Hillary Clinton has been relatively quiet on immigration. She has declared support for various policies, including comprehensive immigration reform, but has not held any signature events or speeches in the general election focusing on the issue.

Our research suggests that this is a mistake, since allowing Trump’s negative rhetoric on immigration to dominate media coverage pushes public opinion in a more anti-immigrant direction. Clinton may worry that highlighting the issue will cost her votes with whites, but our findings suggest that she can seize the high ground on immigration in ways that are politically advantageous.

From her various statements so far, we know that Clinton would push for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. If that is not achievable in the near term, she supports passing the DREAM Act and extending President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, including those currently held up in federal court involving the implementation of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Permanent Residents (or DAPA). And in an important contrast to Trump, Clinton also opposes the massive deportation of undocumented immigrants without a criminal record.

How might Clinton lay out her positions in a way that resonates not only with her core supporters, but also with undecided voters? Our recently published book on immigration framing and public opinion can offer some insights. Our research shows that public opinion is persuadable, even on an issue that is as highly charged as immigration.

By Professors Karthick Ramakrishnan, Jennifer Merolla and Chris Haynes for CNBC
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