New Report: Voters “Cross-Pressured” on the Economy and Immigration Could Decide the 2020 Election

About a quarter of Americans agree with Democrats on one issue and Republicans on the other.

WASHINGTON--()--Coverage of “swing voters” in American elections tends to assume that such voters are moderate centrists. But recent survey research finds that currently, undecided voters are “cross-pressured,” with conflicting preferences rather than consistently moderate views. Indeed, on two central issues -- the economy and immigration -- about a quarter of Americans hold split views, torn between being closer to one party on immigration and another on economic policy.

These “cross-pressured” voters will be crucial to next year’s election. In the 2018 mid-term elections, the GOP lost support among economically liberal/anti-immigration Americans (19 percent of voters) while gaining support among economically conservative/pro-immigration Americans (8 percent of voters). Both types of cross-pressured voters are more likely than other Americans to say they are undecided about who they will vote for in the 2020 presidential election.

In the new Democracy Fund Voter Study Group report, “Opposing Forces: Issues Dividing Voters Ahead of Election 2020,” Lee Drutman, Senior Fellow at New America, uses data from the 2018 and 2019 VOTER Survey (Views of the Electorate Research Survey) to offer new insights into how the electorate has shifted since the 2016 presidential election and how views of the economy and immigration could impact the 2020 election.

Among the report’s key findings:

Americans’ Views on the Economy and Immigration

  • About half (49 percent) of the electorate is consistently to the left on economic issues (including social welfare policies, inequality, taxation and regulation) and immigration issues (including whether immigrants contribute or detract from American society, and whether it should be easier or harder for immigrants to come to America). A quarter of the electorate (25 percent) are consistently to the right on the same economic and immigration issues. That leaves about a quarter (26 percent) of voters who are “cross-pressured” on the economy and immigration.
  • On the economy, most Democrats are on the left, along with many independents and some Republicans. On immigration, the overall distribution is similar but Democrats, independents and Republicans are all farther to the right.
  • Relatively few voters (13 percent) have consistently middle-of-the-road views on both economics and immigration.

Where the Parties Stand

  • Democrats have a public opinion advantage on economic issues. Voters are more evenly split on immigration, with independent voters right of center.
  • Republican voters hold a more diverse range of views on economic and immigration issues, with some holding left-of-center views on the economy. Views among Democrats are more concentrated left of center on both issues.

“Voters who are cross-pressured on the economy and immigration represent a key hinge point for the upcoming election,” Drutman said. “We often think of elections as a competition for moderate, centrist swing voters. But this analysis reveals that many of these swing voters are not so much moderate as they are cross-pressured and may decide who to vote for based on what issues the candidates emphasize.”

The Democracy Fund Voter Study Group is a research collaboration of leading analysts and scholars from across the political spectrum. The full report can be found at, along with other research from the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group.


Jack D’Amato
(404) 995-4500

Release Summary

Opposing Forces


Jack D’Amato
(404) 995-4500