Elissa Slotkin is the new House Representative for Michigan’s 8th District, which encompasses parts of the capital city Lansing, Michigan State University, suburbs like East Lansing and Okemos, and rural areas including Livingston and Oakland counties. Slotkin was raised on a Michigan farm before serving multiple tours as a Pentagon negotiator in Iraq, working for the CIA, and advising both President Bush and President Obama on matters of national security. She is currently serving her first term after defeating incumbent Mike Bishop in a narrow race in 2018, taking 50.6% of the vote compared to her opponent’s 46.8%.
Slotkin is the first Democratic representative of the 8th District since the late 1990s, although the district has vacillated in its support for Democrats and Republicans during Presidential races. The district has a median household income of around $71,702, with about 11% of people below the poverty line and 8% making more than $200,000 a year, which places it roughly in the middle when compared to the wealth of other Michigan districts. The area is majority white (84%) and highly educated, with 95% of the adult population having a high school diploma or higher. The district’s highly educated, mostly white population, spread across cities, suburbs, a major university, and rural areas may be factors in its right-leaning, centrist policy preferences over time. However, dissatisfaction with Trump and Bishop’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act may have been a contributing factor to Slotkin’s victory. Slotkin focused her campaign primarily on health care and health concerns, the economy, clean water, and veterans issues. Slotkin’s background and personality may also have contributed to her appeal. As a mom with personal experience with the broken health care system, a veteran who served in Iraq, a national security professional who served for both Democrats and Republicans, and a personable Michigan native who made a point of speaking to hundreds of constituents about their concerns, Slotkin likely came across as someone reasonable capable of bringing people together.
Existing literature has illustrated important correlations between the demographics of a district, the type of representative the district has, and the relative permissiveness of the immigration policy those representatives support. The strongest correlation exists between the party-aligned voting rates in a district, and the types of policies representatives support. In general, higher percentages of Republican voters in a district correlate with more restrictive immigration policies (Ramakrishnan et al. 2010; Wong 2012; Casellas and Leal 2013). Research has suggested some correlations between the demographic makeup of districts and immigration policy as well. For example, districts with a higher percentage of foreign born population tend to have somewhat more accepting policies, and districts with a higher percentage of Latinos tend to have more accepting policies (Wong 2014). However, demographic factors are contextualized by party preferences–for example, research has indicated that when the percentage of Latinos in a Republican district has recently grown, it correlates to more restrictive policies. Finally, the party of the representative plays a significant role in predicting immigration policy, with Republican representatives strongly tending to support more restrictive policies than Democratic representatives (Wong 2014; Wong 2017; Casellas and Leal 2013). Recent research by Professor Valenzuela also indicates a relationship between the representative’s party, the percentage of their party in their district, and support for the January 2019 vote to fund the Department of Homeland Security in order to re-open the government. Valenzuela found that first term representatives, and Democratic representatives in polarized districts, were both likely to vote to fund the DHS.
These findings have mixed implications for predicting Slotkin’s future stance on immigration policy. On the one hand, District 8 has a low percentage of foreign born and Latino populations (around 8% and 5%, lower than the national average), which might indicate more restrictive policies because there are fewer foreign-born populations to advocate for permissive immigration policies. However, a lower percentage of Latinos in the right-leaning area also does not predict the kinds of backlash effects described by Wong. The Republican-leaning district also implies that restrictive policies are likely, but the highly polarized nature of the district indicates that policies–not just on immigration–are likely to be more in the political center, because the representative must avoid alienating either side to maintain support. The fact that Slotkin is a new representative, and a Democrat leading a polarized district both indicate that she likely voted to fund the Department of Homeland Security in 2019, and her status as a Democratic representative makes permissive immigration policies more likely overall. The mixed implications of Slotkin’s identity and district makeup make it likely that she will support slightly restrictive, but not extreme immigration policies–but the literature does not predict whether or not she will focus on immigration policy at all.
In fact, Slotkin has not focused on immigration policy, either in her campaign or in her time in office so far. Although Slotkin did vote to fund DHS, as Valenzuela’s analysis would suggest, this was the only immigration-related legislation she has voted on. Instead, Slotkin has consistently supported Democratic legislation on economic, environmental, and other social issues, and co-sponsored bipartisan gun control legislation. This is consistent with the priorities she articulated during her campaign. Her campaign website never mentioned immigration, instead focusing on issues like health care and the opioid epidemic, and her Congressional website doesn’t mention the issue either. During her campaign she never tweeted about immigration, and since taking office has only tweeted six times–mainly focusing on the need to end the shutdown for the sake of federal workers’ jobs. In interviews, Slotkin has articulated increased border security in the form of agents and technology, opposed the border wall, emphasized the need for immigration for Michigan’s agricultural sector, and supported a path to citizenship for DACA kids and the right to seek asylum. Slotkin argues her national security background and experience as a negotiator will enable her to reach bipartisan compromise on immigration in the future. Slotkin avoiding immigration policy makes sense, since the low foreign born and Latino population she represents may not see immigration policy as a priority, or an issue the polarized district can agree on.