Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton August 2, 2018

Who drove the discourse? News coverage and policy framing of immigrants and refugees in the 2016 U.S. presidential election

  • Christine Ogan EMAIL logo , Rosemary Pennington , Olesya Venger and Daniel Metz
From the journal Communications


Migration was one of the most important issues in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. While Hillary Clinton promised an immigration reform that would create a path to citizenship, Donald Trump said he would deport illegal aliens, build a wall between the United States and Mexico, and suspend immigration from countries with a history of terrorism, capitalizing on some of the public’s fears through his rhetoric. We examine the ways mainstream national and regional press covered this issue from the Republican National Convention through Election Day. This content analysis of 12 news outlets finds that political themes drove the coverage more than anything else, with Donald Trump or a member of his team most often serving as theme sponsor. Though about half of the stories were neutral or balanced in tone, negative stories were sponsored either by the Trump team or other actors.


Abrajano, M., & Singh, S. (2009). Examining the link between issue attitudes and news source: The case of Latinos and immigration reform. Political Behavior, 31, 1–30.10.1007/s11109-008-9067-8Search in Google Scholar

Alber, M. (2016, January 25). A tale of two rallies: How Trump and Clinton events look and sound. NBC News. Retrieved Septmber 24, 2017from in Google Scholar

Ali, S., & Khalid, M. (2008). U.S. mass media and Muslim world: Portrayal of Muslims by Newsweek and Time. European Journal of Scientific Research, 21(4), 554–580.Search in Google Scholar

Al Jazeera (2018, March 4). Anti-Muslim ‘incidents’ surge in Germany, Spain. Retrieved March 26, 2018from , in Google Scholar

Alsultany, E. (2012). Arabs and Muslims in the media: Race and representation after 9/11. New York: New York University Press.10.18574/nyu/9780814729175.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Alvarez, M., & Butterfield, T. (2000). The resurgence of nativism in California? The case of proposition 187 and illegal immigration. Social Science Quarterly, 81, 167–179.Search in Google Scholar

Baugh, R., & Witsman, K. (2017, March). U.S. lawful permanent residents: 2014. Annual Flow Report. Homeland Security. Retrieved August 25, 2017from in Google Scholar

Berry, M., Garcia-Blanco, I., & Moore, K. (2015, December). Press coverage of the refugee and migrant crisis in the EU: A content analysis of five European countries. Report prepared for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (also known as the Cardiff Report). Cardiff: Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies.Search in Google Scholar

Bohman, A., & Hjerm, M. (2016). In the wake of radical right electoral success: A cross-country comparative study of anti-immigration attitudes over time. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 42(11), 1729–1747.10.1080/1369183X.2015.1131607Search in Google Scholar

Boomgaarden, H. G., & Vliegenthart, R. (2007). Explaining the rise of anti-immigrant parties: The role of news media content. Electoral Studies, 26(2), 404–417.10.1016/j.electstud.2006.10.018Search in Google Scholar

Boydstun, A. E., Card, D., Gross, J. H., Resnik, P., & Smith, N. H. (2014, August 19). Tracking the development of media frames within and across policy issues. Working Paper, Carnegie Mellon University Research Showcase@CMU.Search in Google Scholar

Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (2016). Fact sheet: Fiscal year 2016 refugee admissions. u.S. Department of State. Retrieved August 25, 2017from in Google Scholar

Caviedes, A. (2015). An emerging ‘European’ news portrayal of immigration? Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 41(6), 897–917.10.1080/1369183X.2014.1002199Search in Google Scholar

Connor, P., & Lopez, G. (2016, May 18). 5 facts about the U.S. rank in worldwide migration. Pew Research Center, FactTank. Retrieved September 24, 2017from in Google Scholar

Dekker, R. (2017). Frame ambiguity in policy controversies: Critical frame analysis of migrant integration policies in Antwerp and Rotterdam. Critical Policy Issues, 11(2), 127–145.10.1080/19460171.2016.1147365Search in Google Scholar

Diaz, D. (2016, September 20). Trump campaign defends son’s Skittles tweet. CNN. Retrieved August 15, 2017from in Google Scholar

Dockray, H. (2017, November 30). Sad graph shows the relationship between Trump’s tweets and “Fox & Friends”. Retrieved December 12, 2017from in Google Scholar

Duffy, B. (2016, March). Perils of perception. Ipsos. Retrieved August 25, 2017from in Google Scholar

Dunaway, J., Branton, R. P., & Abrajano, M. A. (2010). Agenda setting, public opinion, and the issue of immigration reform. Social Science Quarterly, 91(2), 359–378.10.1111/j.1540-6237.2010.00697.xSearch in Google Scholar

Eco, U. (2012). Inventing the enemy: Essays. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Search in Google Scholar

England, C. (2017, February 16). Donald Trump blamed for massive spike in Islamophobic hate crime. The Independent. Retrieved August 15, 2017from in Google Scholar

Entman, R. (1993). Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 51–58.10.1111/j.1460-2466.1993.tb01304.xSearch in Google Scholar

Esses, V. M., Dovidio, J. F., & Hodson, G. (2002). Public attitudes toward immigration in the United States and Canada in response to the September 11, 2001 “Attack on America”. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 2(1), 69–85.10.1111/j.1530-2415.2002.00028.xSearch in Google Scholar

Fernandes, J., & Shumow, M. (2016). Framing politics in transnational communities: Spanish-language immigrant media and election coverage in South Florida. Journalism, 17(8), 961–978.10.1177/1464884914542743Search in Google Scholar

Gallup (2017). Immigration. Retrieved October 2, 2017from in Google Scholar

Gil de Zúñiga, H., Correa, T., & Valenzuela, S. (2012). Selective exposure to cable news and immigration in the US: The relationship between Fox News, CNN, and attitudes toward Mexican immigrants. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(4), 597–615.10.1080/08838151.2012.732138Search in Google Scholar

Glass, I., & Meek, M. (2017, December 8). Our town – Part one. This American Life. Retrieved March 26, 2018from , in Google Scholar

Goffman E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Gottschalk, P., & Greenberg, G. (2008). Islamophobia: Making Muslims the enemy. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.Search in Google Scholar

Greussing, E., & Boomgaarden, H. G. (2017). Shifting the refugee narrative? An automated frame analysis of Europe’s 2015 refugee crisis. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 43(11), 1749–1774.10.1080/1369183X.2017.1282813Search in Google Scholar

Hallin, D. C. (2015). The dynamics of immigration coverage in comparative perspective. American Behavioral Scientist, 59(7), 876–885.10.1177/0002764215573259Search in Google Scholar

Hoewe, J., Zeldes, G. A., & Bowe, B. J. (2018). Who, from where? TV network news coverage of immigration narratives during Trump’s first 100 days. In R. E. Gutsche Jr. (Ed.), The Trump presidency, journalism, and democracy (pp. 101–117). New York: Routledge.10.4324/9781315142326-8Search in Google Scholar

Hussain, A. (2010). (Re)presenting: Muslims on North American television. Contemporary Islam, 4(1), 55–75.10.1007/s11562-009-0109-8Search in Google Scholar

Immigration Act of 1990 (n.d.). Laws. Retrieved September 26, 2017from in Google Scholar

Ipsos MORI (2016, 14 December). Perceptions are not reality: What the world gets wrong. Retrieved August 24, 2017from in Google Scholar

Jones, B. (2016, April 15). Americans’ views of immigrants marked by widening partisan, generational divides. Pew Research Center. Retrieved September 25, 2017from in Google Scholar

Jones, J. M. (2015, September 9). One in five voters say immigration stance critical to vote. Gallup. Retrieved September 25, 2017from in Google Scholar

Johnson, M., Stein, R. M., & Wrinkle, R. (2003). Language choice, residential stability, and voting among Latino Americans. Social Science Quarterly, 84, 412–424.10.1111/1540-6237.8402012Search in Google Scholar

Lipka, M. (2017, August 9). Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the US and around the world. Pew Research Center. Retrieved August 24, 2017from in Google Scholar

Lopez, G., & Bialik, K. (2017, May 3). Key findings about U.S. immigrants. Pew Research Center. Retrieved August 21, 2017from , in Google Scholar

Marshall, I. H. (Ed.) (1997). Minorities, migrants, and crime: Diversity and similarity across Europe and the United States. London: Sage Publications.10.4135/9781483328072Search in Google Scholar

Media Bias/Fact Check (2017). Retrieved September 21, 2017from in Google Scholar

Mathias, C. (2017, September 18). Exclusive: New report offers proof of US hate crime rise in the Trump era. Huffington Post. Retrieved September 24, 2017from in Google Scholar

Merolla, J., Ramakrishnan, S. K., & Haynes, C. (2013). “Illegal,” “undocumented,” or “unauthorized”: Equivalency frames, issue frames, and public opinion on immigration. Perspectives on Politics, 11(3), 789–807.10.1017/S1537592713002077Search in Google Scholar

Nacos, B. L., & Torres-Reyna, O. (2007). Fueling our fears: Stereotyping, media coverage, and public opinion of Muslim Americans. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Search in Google Scholar

Ogan, C., Willnat, L., Pennington, R., & Bashir, M. (2014). The rise of anti-Muslim prejudice: The media and Islamophobia in Europe and the United States. International Communication Gazette, 76(1), 27–46.10.1177/1748048513504048Search in Google Scholar

Patterson, T. E. (2016, December 7). News coverage of the 2016 general election: How the press failed the voters. Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center. Retrieved October 1, 2017from in Google Scholar

Pew Research Center (2016, July 7). Top voting issues in 2016 election. Retrieved October 1, 2017from in Google Scholar

Puttnam, D. (2013). David Puttnam: Does the media have a “duty of care”? [Video file.] Retrieved March 26, 2018from in Google Scholar

Roediger, D. R. (2005). Working toward whiteness: How America’s immigrants became white: The strange journey from Ellis Island to the suburbs. New York, NY: Basic Books.Search in Google Scholar

Said, E. W. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Random House.Search in Google Scholar

Said, E. W. (1997). Covering Islam: How the media and the experts determine how we see the rest of the world. Revised edition. New York: Vintage Books.Search in Google Scholar

Saunders, D. (2012). The myth of the Muslim tide: Do immigrants threaten the West? New York, NY: Vintage Books.Search in Google Scholar

Schudson, M. (2002) What’s unusual about covering politics as usual? In B. Zelizer and S. Allan (eds) Journalism After September 11 (pp. 36–47). New York: Routledge.10.4324/9780203218136_chapter_2Search in Google Scholar

Segal, E. A. (2011). Social empathy: A model built on empathy, contextual understanding, and social responsibility that promotes social justices. Journal of Social Service Research, 37(3), 266–277.10.1080/01488376.2011.564040Search in Google Scholar

Sheikh, K. Z., Price, V., & Oshagan, H. (1996). Press treatment of Islam: What kind of picture do the media paint? Gazette, 56(2), 139–154.10.1177/001654929605600204Search in Google Scholar

Shaheen, J. (2000). Hollywood’s Arab Muslims. The Muslim World, 90(1–2), 24–42.10.1111/j.1478-1913.2000.tb03680.xSearch in Google Scholar

Thorbjørnsrud, K. (2015). Framing irregular immigrants in Western media. American Behavioral Scientist, 59(7), 771–782.10.1177/0002764215573255Search in Google Scholar

Valentino, N. A., Brader, T., & Jardina, A. E. (2013). Immigration opposition among U.S. whites: General ethnocentrism or media priming of attitudes about Latinos? Political Psychology, 34(2), 149–166.10.1111/j.1467-9221.2012.00928.xSearch in Google Scholar

Van Gorp, B. (2007). The constructionist approach to framing: Bringing culture back in. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 60–78.Search in Google Scholar

Washington Post (2015). Full text: Donald Trump announces a presidential bid. June 16. Retrieved August 10, 2017from in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2018-08-02
Published in Print: 2018-08-28

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 24.9.2023 from
Scroll to top button