Two immigration moves underscore the issue’s 2024 potency: From the Politics Desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, deputy politics editor Adam Wollner looks at how two immigration-related moves one in Washington, D.C., and one in Arizona highlight the issue’s importance ahead of the 2024 election. Plus, national political correspondent Steve Kornacki breaks down how the shifting demographics of Donald Trump’s base could affect his Electoral College advantage.

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Two immigration moves underscore the issue’s 2024 potency

By Adam Wollner

The politically fraught battle over the U.S. southern border was back in the spotlight Tuesday, with Democrats in Washington aiming to reverse the tide on an issue they’ve long been vulnerable on and Republicans in a key battleground state hoping to further capitalize on it.

President Joe Biden, who has faced withering criticism over the migrant influx at the border, signed a long-awaited executive order that will temporarily shut down asylum requests when crossings surge, NBC News’ Gabe Gutierrez and Monica Alba report. Since the average number of daily encounters has already crossed the 2,500 threshold, the shutdown would go into effect immediately.

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For Biden, the move represents a stark shift to the right on immigration: The restrictions are reminiscent of those then-President Donald Trump sought to enact in 2018, but were blocked by the courts.

More than 2,000 miles west, Arizona Republican lawmakers acted to put the issue of the border directly before voters this fall with the goal of galvanizing their base in the critical swing state.

The state Legislature, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans, passed a bill to place an immigration-related measure on the November ballot that most notably would give state and local law enforcement the ability to detain and deport undocumented border crossers, despite court rulings saying that power belongs to the federal government, NBC News’ Alex Tabet reports.

The dual events underscore the potency of the issue for voters months out from Election Day — and how Democrats are operating from a disadvantage on it.

When voters were asked in April in a national NBC News poll what issue was the most important one facing the country, immigration and the border was second (22%) only to inflation and the cost of living (23%). In addition, 20% said they felt so strongly about immigration that they would vote solely for or against a candidate based on it, second only to protecting democracy (28%).

And a whopping 69% of voters disapproved of Biden’s handling of border security, the lowest point of his presidency, as he narrowly trailed Trump overall in the head-to-head results.

Even against this backdrop, the moves from Biden and Arizona Republicans to shore up their stance on the issue still carry risks. The president failed to earn much credit with his executive order from Republicans, who called it too little, too late, while the liberal wing of the Democratic Party panned it.

And Arizona Democrats warned the ballot measure could backfire on the GOP, comparing it to a strident 2010 state law that gave law enforcement the authority to arrest individuals who were suspected of being undocumented and that caused a national uproar.

Trump’s shifting demographic support could blunt his Electoral College edge

By Steve Kornacki

The past two elections have been marked by a pronounced Electoral College advantage for Trump, allowing him to lose the national popular vote decisively both times even as the race for 270 sat on a knife’s edge.

If there ends up being a similar disconnect this November, then current polling showing a practically tied race would actually mean Trump is in a very strong position against Biden. But to look inside that polling is to see the potential for his Electoral College edge to erode significantly this time around, even as his popular vote position improves.

This has to do with the shifting demographics of Trump’s support. Polls consistently show him making inroads with nonwhite voters even as his support among white voters remains largely unchanged from 2020.

The current polling numbers reflect an average derived from the crosstabs of all major surveys conducted since April. Individually, these are small subsamples with high margins of error, so take this with a grain of salt. But the consistency of similar findings across multiple polls strongly suggests there’s real movement.

The $64,000 question is whether this new Trump support will manifest on Election Day — and there’s reason to wonder if it actually will. But if it does, it will obviously be most evident in states with demographically diverse populations.

To see what this could mean for this election, let’s look back to the last one. In 2020, Biden rolled up a hefty margin of 7,060,401 over Trump in the national popular vote. Much of it came because of landslides in giant blue states. Biden’s 29-point California win alone produced a 5,103,821-vote margin, while his 23-point New York victory was good for a 1,993,597-vote margin. That’s a total popular vote margin of 7,097,599 from just two states.

In addition to being blue bastions, California and New York are also two of the most diverse states in the country. In other words, if the current polling bears out, these are states where Trump could cut heavily into Biden’s vote margins.

Consider a recent Siena College poll of New York. It found Biden ahead of Trump, but only by a 9-point margin, 47-38%, and almost entirely due to nonwhite voters. According to the 2020 exit poll, Trump won support from just 6% of Black New Yorkers; in the Siena poll, that number was 18%. Similarly, his Latino support jumped by 9 points.

You can see where this is going. It’s not that Biden is at risk of losing New York, but a drop in his victory margin would have popular vote implications. Suppose, for example, that Biden had won New York by only 12 points in 2020. That would have netted him nearly a million fewer votes, without losing a single electoral vote. A similar shift in California, where half of the electorate is nonwhite, would have shaved several million more votes off Biden’s popular vote edge. Reduced margins in other big, diverse blue states like Illinois and New Jersey would have cut deeper still.

This is the recipe for a tight national popular vote tally this November, one Trump might even win — exactly what the polls are showing now.

But it doesn’t automatically follow that his Electoral College position would improve much. Meaningful nonwhite gains certainly would make Trump the favorite to flip Arizona, Georgia and Nevada. Adding those to the states he won in 2020 would put him at 268 electoral votes, just shy of the magic number. But from there, he’d still likely need to flip Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, states where white voters predominate and Trump’s demographic growth will count for much less.

Add it all together and there might not be much left of the Electoral College advantage Trump enjoyed the last two times.

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at

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