Author: Selam Bellete

Sometimes, Less is Not More: Why Mikie Sherrill Should Speak Out on Immigration (NJ-11)

SUMMARY: For the final project, I decided to write an op-ed addressing how I felt my district’s representative should act on the issue of immigration. While completing the first two assignments, I observed that Mikie Sherrill was very active in regards to some issues (healthcare, taxes, gun control, infrastructure) but had almost nothing to say about immigration. In my op-ed, I argue that she should support different types of policies in order to increase her negotiating power in Congress. Since Democrats support permissive policies and Republicans support restrictive ones, Sherrill can increase her ability to work within and outside of her party by supporting bills that contain both of these aspects. Secondly, I argue that Sherrill can speak more convincingly about why immigration is good in order to help herself and the immigrants of NJ-11.






Sometimes, Less is Not More: Why Mikie Sherrill Should Speak Out on Immigration

Pete Buttigieg has already made a name for himself by becoming the first openly gay candidate to run for the Democratic party in a presidential election, but his numerous accolades make him stand out even more. As a Rhodes Scholar, Harvard graduate, former war veteran, and someone who can speak seven different languages, Buttigieg has already accomplished more in his lifetime than many of today’s most esteemed politicians. Unfortunately, Buttigieg’s remarkable resumé hasn’t been able to compensate for his lack of specific policy proposals. When questioned about this on CNN last month, he responded by stating that he wanted to communicate his values without “drowning people in minutiae”. This certainly sounds eloquent, but at the end of the day it does not get the job done. House representative Mikie Sherrill could learn a lesson from Mayor Pete Buttigieg when it comes to immigration, as it has not been an issue of focus for her so far. If Mikie Sherrill advocates for permissive and centrist immigration policies in addition to positively speaking about the issue to the residents of New Jersey’s 11th Congressional district, she has the potential to strengthen both her political and social power.

For years, border security and immigration reform have been issues that divide Democratic and Republican politicians along party lines. In an analysis of House and Senate voting records for four border enforcement bills that were passed in 2005 and 2006, Jason Casellas and David Leal found a statistically significant correlation between party affiliation and voting choice: Democrats were more likely to vote against these bills, while Republicans were more likely to vote in favor of them. It is no secret that the Democratic party has become more liberal while the GOP has seen an influx in conservatism, and these shifts are part of the reason why partisanship – which has essentially become synonymous with political and moral ideology – strongly governs the majority of representatives’ opinions. Consequently, many discussions involving immigration focus on one party opposing the other’s proposals, instead of putting differences aside and creating effective reform.

By openly and strongly advocating for policies that remove the hurdles immigrants must overcome to become citizens, Mikie Sherrill can align herself with her party’s liberal interests and make other progressive Democratic representatives more interested in working with her on the issue. However, Sherrill should still continue to display support for immigration policies containing aspects of permissiveness and reinforcement in order to increase Republicans’ likelihood of cooperating with her. This would allow Sherrill to act as a bridge between the two parties, which is important given that Democrats and Republicans in Congress this year have had difficulty reaching compromises on immigration reform. Increased cooperation would lead to a decrease in the effect of partisanship on voting choice, which could pave the way for common-sense legislation that is sympathetic to immigrants’ needs and citizens’ concerns.

Secondly, I believe that Mikie Sherrill should utilize more rhetoric that empathizes with the needs of immigrants and highlights their assets if she wants to remain popular amongst Democratic voters in NJ’s 11th congressional district. So far, she has demonstrated a moderate attitude towards immigration: in an August 2018 press release, she stated that she wants to “solve our immigration crisis by fixing our broken system and securing our borders”. Although her statement hints at legitimate desires, political psychology research demonstrates that statements without a clear position can harm her chances of re-election. In a study headed by Kerri Milita, participants who read fictitious statements from fictitious candidates reported feeling more certain about how the candidate would vote when the statements were clear (as opposed to when they were ambiguous). These results indicate that members of her Democratic base who are passionate about immigration reform may feel less confident about her ability to act on the issue given her previous statement, which could negatively affect her public approval and polling results. This is already supported by their current attitudes, since immigrant rights advocacy groups in NJ-11 have already called Sherrill out for not taking a more liberal stance on family reunification policies.

By avoiding ambiguous statements, Mikie Sherrill will have the power to foster positive relationships between native-born and foreign-born citizens. New Jersey’s population has the third highest percentage of immigrants, which clearly makes their social and economic success in our state an important issue. Their well-being hinges upon their ability to integrate into American society – which in turn is dependent on their ability to interact with other non-immigrants in a healthy manner. In a recent political science experiment, participants who engaged in a perspective-taking exercise from a refugee’s point of view were more likely to support the resettlement of Syrian refugees than participants who were just shown information about American resettlement policies. Those in the first condition demonstrated a noticeable increase in empathy and respect for immigrants, which has the capability of positively affecting their social behavior around immigrants.

If she shares firsthand stories of immigrants in NJ-11 and stresses their desire to achieve the quintessential ideals of the American dream, she will essentially be carrying out a similar perspective-taking exercise on their behalf. By making specific and positive immigration rhetoric a mainstay of her town hall meetings, Mikie Sherrill can set the stage for an unprecedented increase in pro-immigrant attitudes among native-born residents, which could potentially result in their compassionate and welcoming behavior towards immigrants. These friendly interactions are vital for immigrants who have not yet established strong social networks, and they can also work to counteract any negative perceptions of immigrants held by conservative citizens.

Admittedly, I do not want to convey a lack of support for Mikie Sherrill with my arguments. It is wonderful that our district is being represented by a Democrat for the first time since 1985, and I appreciate the work she has done in Congress to advocate for our veterans. But given our president’s support of nativist sentiments and my own background as a first-generation Ethiopian-American, I cannot remain satisfied with my congressional representative’s current treatment of immigration policy reform.


Media Coverage Analysis in New Jersey


For this assignment, I measured socioeconomic status in terms of the district’s median household income and the percentage of adults over age 25 with a bachelor’s degree. My first hypothesis is that immigration news coverage in NJ-11 (a district with a high median household income and % college-educated) should not be as frequent as coverage in NJ-3 (a district with a lower median household income and % college educated). Branton and Dunaway’s study found that in California counties with a greater proportion of college-educated adults, news stories about immigration were less common. Since both California and NJ rank in the top 4 for states with the highest proportions of immigrants, I believe their prediction should hold true for NJ as well.  My second hypothesis is that immigration news coverage in NJ-11 should be more positive/neutral than in NJ-3. Abrajano and Hajnal state that white Americans living near large populations of immigrants may feel that they are competing with them for jobs or other economic privileges, but this perceived threat is less likely to be salient for the citizens of NJ-11 since they are already well-off. Negative coverage of immigrants should resonate more with the less affluent citizens of NJ-3, which should give local media a greater profit incentive to exaggerate it (as Branton explains, local media has a tendency to emphasize issues that their constituents already find relevant). Stories depicting immigrants as unauthorized and criminal are already common in national media, so it is only natural that these stories should be more pronounced in NJ-3 news when compared to NJ-11.


I conducted searches using the key terms “immigrant”, “immigration”, “border”, “wall”, “undocumented”, “shutdown”, and “security” for a local county newspaper from each district. The Daily Record serves Morris County in Northern NJ, which is in District 11. The Burlington County Times serves District 3. I chose District 3 because it has a similar population of Latino people when compared to NJ-11, and this factor could indirectly influence news coverage: Abrajano and Hajnal find that white Americans living in areas with growing Latino populations have more negative attitudes towards immigration, which could cause local news to portray immigration more negatively.

If the articles’ coverage condemned the mistreatment of immigrants, mentioned their contributions to the US, or advocated for reforming laws in a way that helped them and any hardships they faced, I classified them as positive. If articles characterized immigrants as being dangerous, criminals, or a problem for American society I classified them as negative. Articles that did not discuss immigrants at all or whose coverage had aspects of both the “positive” and “negative” categories were classified as neutral. “Economy”, which is my first focus category, referred to articles that discussed the economic impacts of the shutdown on government workers. Articles discussing politicians’ responses to the government shutdown went into the “Partisanship” category. The “Immigrant Experience” category was for articles that discussed the lives of immigrants from all ethnicities and their physical migration into the country. Lastly, the “Border Security” category was for articles mentioning the construction of the wall, Border Patrol, and the views politicians and citizens had towards it. In order to determine the focus and tone of an article, I examined the diction in the title and quickly skimmed it to see how well the content aligned with the title.

To analyze the results of my coding, I created two bar graphs displaying the proportions of each category for focus and tone. The majority of both newspapers’ coverage made neutral statements about immigrants. 70.59% of The Daily Record’s 51 articles published within the given time period were classified as neutral, and 61.5% of the Burlington County Times (BCT) 213 articles were neutral. The BCT’s proportion of negative articles was 17.4 percentage points higher than The Daily Record, and this margin was nearly double the difference in the proportion of positive coverage for between the 2 papers (7.95%). The BCT’s proportion of negative coverage was only 11.26 percentage points higher than its proportion of positive coverage for the BCT, but for The Daily Record positive coverage was nearly 3 times more common than negative coverage. This indicates that for the BCT, negative coverage was more salient since it had less positive coverage to counteract it. The total proportion of BCT articles in the categories of “Immigrant Issues” and “Border Security” is 38.03%, but for The Daily Record this same proportion is 27.45%. For the BCT coverage is split fairly evenly across my four focus areas, and for The Daily Record news coverage is heavily concentrated in the “Economy” category.

Overall, the frequency of immigration stories in NJ-11 was lower than in NJ-3. My focus categories of “Immigrant Issues” and “Border Security” are the ones that primarily focus on immigration (“Economy” and “Partisanship” articles tended to be about the shutdown), and a lower percentage of articles from The Daily Record fell into this category when compared to the Burlington County Times (BCT). Since families in NJ-11 are more likely to be affluent, they are less likely to be worried about their economic status in relation to immigrants. This also explains why there was a high concentration of “Economy” articles for The Daily Record – these articles described the economic impacts of the shutdown on citizens without referencing immigrants. This economic threat narrative is driven by the idea that they are taking away low-skilled jobs from citizens, but in NJ-11 a high proportion of residents work in the pharmaceutical industry or business jobs in New York.

My second hypothesis was also supported, since the BCT had a lower percentage of neutral / positive articles and a higher percentage of negative articles. These results are consistent with Abrajano and Hajnal’s observation that less educated people are more hostile towards minorities. Since this tends to be the case, local newspapers would produce more negative articles in an attempt to appeal to them. One way this occurs is through a “crime news script”, or publicizing a disproportionate amount of nonwhite and immigrant criminal stories. For example, the BCT reported on two stories of undocumented immigrants killing citizens that The Daily Record did not report on at all.

I did not run a statistical test on my proportions, so I cannot be absolutely sure that the differences in proportions for focus and tone between the two newspapers / districts are significant. I believe the large difference between the number of articles for each paper affected this significance, since the BCT appeared to produce a greater volume of content in general when compared to The Daily Record. Since my coding method relied on my own judgment of the articles’ implications, there is a chance that it may not be 100% reproducible.



Population Characteristics and the Immigrant Experience in NJ-11 (Selam Bellete)



From 2007 to 2017, New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District did not experience significant demographic changes. In both years, white residents made up about three-quarters of the population and overall minority populations remained low. The next largest segment of the population identified as Hispanic / Latino, followed by Asian citizens and black citizens. Since the estimated Pacific Islander population for both 2007 and 2017 was 0%, I did not include it in my table. Asian residents had the largest change out of any minority, which was 2.2 percentage points. Although white residents actually saw a 5.4 percentage-point decrease in their proportion of the district’s total population, I doubt this change will be significant because of the district’s large population. The foreign-born population experienced an increase of 0.4 percentage points from 2009 to 2019, which is the second-smallest change of any of the groups mentioned. Since the total proportion of the population that is foreign-born is larger than each individual minority group for both years, I believe that they as a whole will have a greater impact on white Americans’ perceptions of immigration issues.


Existing literature suggests that the historical, racial, and socioeconomic status of a geographic area shape its relationship with immigration. McDermott notes that immigrants moving to the rural Midwest and South, where most of the population is native-born, have not been warmly welcomed. Immigrants do not always fit into the black-white racial divide characterizing these regions’ history, so their presence may heighten racial identities on each side and make the native-born less interested in interacting with them. Similarly, Enos’s social experiment demonstrated that these interactions in majority-white areas negatively impact immigrant experiences. Abrajano and Hajnal find an opposite reason for these exclusionary attitudes, as their statistical analysis in Ch.4 showed that white Americans in states with large Latino populations were more likely to view immigration as the country’s worst problem (133). They mention that living near a large outgroup can represent a threat to the in-group, so in this case white Americans living near large immigrant populations may overestimate the extent to which immigrants compete with them for jobs and political offices. On a more positive note, Branton finds that districts with a high socioeconomic status are less likely to have any sort of media coverage on immigration. The media often sensationalizes the economic threats of immigration in order to cater to its viewers, but college-educated people (which tend to be richer) are less likely to be worried about threats to their economic status. This narrative aligns more closely with the reality of people who are not financially secure or work in low-skilled jobs, which explains why Hopkin’s analysis finds an opposite relationship between areas with a lower socioeconomic status and support of anti-immigrant proposals.

I predict that immigrants’ experiences in NJ-11 will be positive. Although the majority of the district’s citizens are native-born, the historical presence of ethnic enclaves in and around the district means that residents there are already accustomed to immigrants’ presence. Thus, new immigrants will not be perceived as especially unusual by white residents and should not cause an increase in hostile attitudes. Similarly, the results of Enos’s study are not applicable to NJ-11 because the Latino population only increased by 1.9% over the last decade. The white Americans in his experiment developed negative attitudes after a sudden and noticeable demographic change, whereas the change in NJ-11’s Latino population took place over a much longer time period. Hispanics and Latinos also do not comprise a large majority of the district when compared to other minority groups, and according to White Backlash this should make white Americans less likely to view immigration negatively. Lastly, the district’s high proportion of college-educated adults and overall affluence predicts less media coverage on immigration. Since they are less likely to perceive immigration as a threat, news outlets would not profit by making it a salient issue in their coverage. For these same reasons, residents here will also be less likely to support policies that hurt immigrants’ ability to move up the economic ladder.

I plan to test my prediction about the effect of the high proportion of college-educated adults in NJ-11 on the salience of immigration in local news coverage. I will conduct an analysis of online news articles published between the start of the December 2018 government shutdown and one week after Trump’s State of the Union address. I chose to limit my search period to this date because of Trump’s references to illegal immigration in his address: since they were inflammatory, I believe that immigration news coverage would shift from the shutdown to his speech. The newspaper I will examine for NJ-11 is The Daily Record, which I chose because it is owned by the publicly traded Gannett Corporation. Since Branton’s study states that these organizations are more motivated by profit than privately owned newspapers, their coverage patterns should be more strongly influenced by population characteristics. My second newspaper is the Burlington County Times, which I chose so I could compare news coverage patterns across areas with different education levels (Burlington County is located in NJ-3). The district has a similar proportion of white and Hispanic/Latino residents (74.6% and 8.4%) and median household income of $82,301, which may minimize any extraneous effects of race and economic status on my dependent variable. I plan to use the term “shutdown” in conjunction with “border wall”, “immigration”, “Mexico”, and “Trump” for each news website. I will also categorize the articles based on whether they discuss the shutdown’s relationship to immigration, impact on government employees, or the conflict between President Trump and Democrats in Congress. I plan to compare the weekly and overall proportion of articles in each framing category since a high proportion of articles in the week of the shutdown followed by a decrease would be indicative of regular coverage (if it was a salient topic, the proportion of articles on it wouldn’t decrease as time passed). To compare immigration-related articles with a positive or negative tone, I will use this quantitative method as well as taking note of the imagery used.

The Issue Most Republicans Care About: Illegal Immigration

In Chapters 2 and 3 of White Backlash, Abrajano and Hajnal explain how white Americans’ political leanings influence their views on immigrants, which in turn shape their voting policies. Their conclusions on partisanship and immigration mirror findings previously discussed in class, since they concluded that white Americans who favored immigrants are more likely to be Democratic and pick liberal policies. They also find a significant link between negative immigration attitudes and Republican partisanship even when controlling for opinions on other social issues and racial groups.

My article discusses the effects of Trump’s portrayal of undocumented immigrants. By framing the debate in a nativist way, he was able to appeal to many voters: in a Pew Research Center poll, 75% of people voted for him based on this issue. Despite findings showing undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crime and make economic contributions to low-skilled industries, his voters’ attitudes indicate that they view immigrants as a threat to the US. The article also mentions that in light problems like the rising wage gap in the U.S. and the opioid epidemic, Republicans’ concerns with immigration are somewhat unwarranted.

Discussion Question: What could account for immigration’s large influence on partisanship other than politicians’ rhetoric?

NJ 10 – Mikie Sherrill

Here is a link to my full presentation:

Slide 1: Election Results for NJ – 11

From 1995 to 2018, New Jersey’s 11th Congressional district was represented by Rodney Frelinghuysen, a moderate Republican who also served as chairman of the House Appropriations committee before retiring in 2018. Interestingly, two of his lowest vote totals and margins of victory over the last ten years occurred in the same years as the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, which Democratic candidates won. In 2008 Frelinghuysen won with a 24.8% margin, and in 2012 he garnered an 18.8% margin. In the 2018 elections, Mikie Sherrill won with a 14.7% margin of victory over her opponent Jay Webber. Taxes, healthcare, and gun control reform were major issues for her during the campaign. Sherrill also had strong showings leading up to the election and at the county level. She won the Democratic primaries for NJ – 11 with 77.5% of the vote and won the majority of the votes in 3 of 4 counties falling within the district’s borders (Morris, Essex, and Passaic).


Partisanship, personal background, and a district’s political climate impact the types of policies representatives are willing to support. In their paper, Casellas and Leal argue that polarization caused partisanship is a strong predictor of votes: the Democratic Party became more liberal and the Republican party became more conservative during the last two decades. They also argue that foreign-born populations are related to support for permissive policies. Wong finds a racial rift within the Democratic party, as white Democrats were more likely to vote against such policies than minority Democrats. He also finds that the distance of a state relative to the South is inversely related to the chances of the representative supporting restrictionist policies. This may happen because any negative effects of illegal immigration would be felt more strongly in these states, which are closer to the border. Casellas and Leal also found that newly elected representatives were more likely to vote “yes” on enforcement bills regardless of party affiliation, since voting “no” could be used against them by their conservative constituents. Lastly, Wong’s median voter theorem predicts that candidates in districts that are evenly split across party lines will be most successful by campaigning for centrist or moderate immigration policies.

I predict that Mikie Sherrill will take a moderate stance on immigration policies by supporting a mix of permissive and restrictionist policies. She is a Democrat, and Casella and Leal’s analysis found partisanship to be significant across all four of their models. Her supporters expressed disillusionment with Frelinghuysen, which suggests that mirroring his views on immigration – which reflected Trump’s views on the subject – would alienate her from NJ -11’s Democratic voters. Her district is located in a state relatively far north, meaning that immigration is not as polarizing of an issue as it is for border states. When Sherrill supports permissive policies, she may not upset as many of her Republican constituents. However, the median voter theorem suggests Sherrill’s election results will cause her to support some restrictionist policies as well in order to balance the interests of and remain favorable among her supporters and the sizable Republican voter base in NJ – 11. Her opponent Jay Webber had secured 42.1% of the votes, meaning a little less than half of the population voted Republican and most likely has conservative views on immigration.

Mikie Sherrill’s online and political presence indicate mixed attitudes on immigration. Her website lists issues such as the economy, veterans, and healthcare, but is mainly devoid of immigration-related content. In two tweets from 2019 (out of 60 total) she expresses her frustrations over the government shutdown’s negative effects on efficient policymaking and people’s economic conditions. In the single immigration-related tweet of her campaign, Sherrill uses the impracticality of a border wall as a lead-in to make a point about the Gateway Tunnel. This is important to NJ -11 because the Trump administration had refused to provide federal funding for its estimated $11-billion budget. The tunnel would expand the currently overcrowded and old tunnel system that links Newark to Manhattan, which many NJ-11 residents rely on for their daily train commutes to work. In support of partisanship being a strong predictor of viewpoints on immigration, she stated abolishing DACA was wrong because it tore children from their families and created a loss of job growth in New Jersey. However, Mikie Sherrill’s support of ICE, expanding CBP, and upgrading the current border wall demonstrate her support for restrictionist policies. Despite her low activity on immigration policymaking, Sherrill believes in the importance of immigration reform for her constituents regardless of their citizenship.

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