PHOENIX – With anti-immigrant rhetoric bubbling over in the leadup to this year's critical midterm elections, about 1 in 3 U.S. adults believes an effort is underway to replace U.S.-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains.
About 3 in 10 also worry that more immigration is causing U.S.-born Americans to lose their economic, political and cultural influence, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to fear a loss of influence because of immigration, 36% to 27%.
Those views mirror swelling anti-immigrant sentiment espoused on social media and cable TV, with conservative commentators like Tucker Carlson exploiting fears that new arrivals could undermine the native-born population.
In their most extreme manifestation, those increasingly public views in the U.S. and Europe tap into a decades-old conspiracy theory known as the “great replacement,” a false claim that native-born populations are being overrun by nonwhite immigrants who are eroding, and eventually will erase, their culture and values. The once-taboo term became the mantra of one losing conservative candidate in the recent French presidential election.
“I very much believe that the Democrats – from Joe Biden all the way down – want to get the illegal immigrants in here and give them voting rights immediately,” said Sally Gansz, 80. Actually, only U.S. citizens can vote in state and federal elections, and attaining citizenship typically takes years.
A white Republican, Gansz has lived her whole life in Trinidad, Colorado, where about half of the population of 8,300 identifies as Hispanic, most with roots going back centuries.
“Isn't it obvious that I watch Fox?” quipped Gansz, who said she watches the conservative channel almost daily, including the top-rated Fox News Channel program “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” a major proponent of those ideas.
“Demographic change is the key to the Democratic Party's political ambitions,” Carlson said on the show last year. “In order to win and maintain power, Democrats plan to change the population of the country.”
Those views aren't held by a majority of Americans – in fact, two-thirds feel the country's diverse population makes the U.S. stronger, and far more favor than oppose a path to legal status for immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally as children. But the deep anxieties expressed by some Americans help explain how the issue energizes those opposed to immigration.
“I don't feel like immigration really affects me or that it undermines American values,” said Daniel Valdes, 43, a registered Democrat who works in finance for an aeronautical firm on Florida's Space Coast. “I'm pretty indifferent about it all.”
Valdes' maternal grandparents came to the U.S. from Mexico, and he said he has “tons” of relatives in the border city of El Paso, Texas. He has Puerto Rican roots on his father's side.
The most intense anxiety was among people with the greatest tendency for conspiratorial thinking. That's defined as those most likely to agree with a series of statements, like much of people's lives is “being controlled by plots hatched in secret places” and “big events like wars, recessions, and the outcomes of elections are controlled by small groups of people who are working in secret against the rest of us.” In all, 17% in the poll believe both that native-born Americans are losing influence because of the growing population of immigrants.