While ‘securing the border’ was a hot topic, concerns over inflation fueled voters

While immigration and “securing the border” were hot topics in political campaigns, North Texas voters were equally, if not more, swayed by concerns about inflation and rising prices and abortion debates and gun politics, according to interviews in the Election Day polls.

“I advised people to buy groceries or gas and then vote,” said Tina Aviles, a Grand Prairie businesswoman who is active in the Republican Party. “The economy is absolutely what we are voting on.”

Brendan Farnsworth, an army veteran and restaurant manager, said he based his vote on women’s rights and took a stand against strict abortion laws. “That was the issue and not border security,” said Farnsworth, a Democrat, speaking at a Plano polling site.

Those sentiments were reflected nationwide: Inflation and abortion were the top issues motivating voters in Tuesday’s midterm elections, followed by crime, immigration and gun politics. on fire, according to a survey by Edison Research. Only about one in 10 voters said immigration was their top concern when deciding how to vote. An PA exit poll found voters were driven by worries about inflation, which topped 8%, as well as the survival of democracy.

Texas is a beacon state for culture wars, experts say, particularly over immigration and what is defined here as border security. Governor Greg Abbott, who defeated Beto O’Rourke in the race for Texas governor, has spent more than $4 billion in public funds on Operation Lone Star, which sent the Texas National Guard and the Ministry of Public Security personnel at the border. His approach included busing around 13,000 migrants from the border to New York; Washington D.C.; and Chicago.

A group of people board a Chicago Transit Authority bus before being taken to a Salvation Army after arriving on a bus with other migrants from Texas at Union Station, Wednesday, August 31, 2022, in Chicago. Immigrants are being bussed in from Texas as part of a strategy launched by TexasGov. Greg Abbott this year to share the influx of people from outside the United States with liberal cities. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune via AP)(Armando L. Sanchez/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Biden administration recently reported that the number of times migrants were apprehended by US Border Patrol jumped to 2.2 million this fiscal year. The record was driven by a patchwork of policies and frosty diplomatic relations, experts say, which made it nearly impossible to send migrants to countries of origin.

Abbott, who has been mentioned as the 2024 presidential candidate, hammered home his record of “unprecedented action to secure the border”. An Election Day tweet read, “We’re protecting America in Biden’s absence.” O’Rourke, the former congressman from El Paso, challenged the incumbent, calling for bipartisan immigration solutions, “not counterproductive policy stunts.”

A recent University of Texas at Tyler poll found that for 24% of registered voters surveyed, securing the border was the most important issue facing Texas. About 42% of Republicans ranked securing the border as the top issue, compared to 5% of Democrats. About 18% of Democrats cited gun control as the top issue, compared to 4% of Republicans.

A Texas survey of registered voters by Univision and the University of Texas at Austin found that 20% think border security is an important issue that “you want Congress and the President to address.” But even more – 50% of those polled – said inflation was a significant problem.

Both polls were taken around the same time – around two to three weeks before the election. The Univision poll of about 1,400 people had a confidence level of 2.6% plus or minus. The UT-Tyler poll of 1,330 people had a confidence level of 2.9% more or less.

“Those day-to-day issues of what it costs to live were the main driver,” Sergio García-Ríos, associate director of research at the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at UT Austin, told the LBJ School of Public Affairs. “People clearly understand how important it is to fill their tank and buy groceries.”

As for framing migration, cartels and drug trafficking under the general label of “border security,” he said the conflation does not particularly appeal to all voters. That’s why border security wasn’t a major issue in the polls or at the polls, said García-Ríos, who helped design the Univision poll.

“Texans have a more sophisticated view of immigration than other states,” he said. “They know it’s possible to be okay with immigrants and really want an immigration system that works and secures the border. Both of these things can exist.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott receives a hug and a kiss from his wife Cecilia Abbott following a...
Texas Governor Greg Abbott receives a hug and a kiss from his wife Cecilia Abbott following a victory speech at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, Texas on November 8, 2022.(Tom Fox / personal photographer)

During his years in the Air Force, Farnsworth, the restaurant manager, said he shared the culture of many Arabic-speaking immigrants. “It was one of the most valuable experiences of my life,” he said. Now, at his job, immigrants run the restaurant, he says. “I’m happy to have them here.”

But the immigration debate does not appear to have had a significant effect on voters like Krisha Bhaskar, chief operating officer of a property company. He said he voted for every Republican candidate he could at his Frisco polling place. Driving his vote were the turbulent US economy, rising inflation, high gasoline prices and the cost of living, he said.

“We are helpless and what happened? The Democrats have taken over,” he said. The higher prices hurt the poor, including his maid, he said. “I had to give him a raise to cover the cost of gas,” he said.

As for Abbott’s stance on immigration, Bhaskar, a naturalized U.S. citizen from India, said, “We need to correct [the U.S. immigration system]. It troubles me that we are so relaxed about the border.

The red wave crumbled, as midterms force reassessment of Biden and Trump

Socorro Perales voted majority Republican for years, starting with Ronald Reagan in 1984. But that changed in 2015 with the rise of Donald Trump and his claims that Mexicans were rapists and criminals.

“His rhetoric was so disconcerting,” said Perales, a naturalized US citizen from Mexico. From this rhetoric, the Dallas resident draws a straight line to the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. She said she voted for O’Rourke. While she disagrees with his stance on abortion, she does agree with his stance on gun restrictions, also calling it a pro-life issue.

Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke addresses supporters during his...
Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks to supporters on his election night Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)(LM Otero / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

At a Plano Library voting site, Vicki Frinsko greeted voters with a large red sign: “Keep Texas Strong. Vote Republican.” She ticked off her important questions: “They’re all important, border security, the economy.”

Although Plano is nearly 800 kilometers from the border, she is worried about migration, she said. “We may be running out of potential terrorists crossing the border.” More border controls are needed, she said. “Do we want someone to come into our house because the door is open?”

The hammering on immigrants didn’t sit well with Raul Reyes, a West Dallas community advocate who is the son of Mexican immigrants. He said Republicans portray immigrants as “the enemy…I don’t see it that way. I come from immigrant parents.

“Do we need to fix our immigration system? Yes.” But he said a democratic balance of power could make that possible “so that those who want to come to this country can do so.”

Abbott’s win confirms expert predictions

Jessica C. Bell