The language of “the elites vs. the people” lends itself all too easily to abuse, but there is a division of opinion on immigration policy that is hard to describe in any other way. CEOs do seem to favor higher and less-policed immigration than the people who work for them; the heads of religious organizations do seem to favor it more than the folks in the pews; and so on. Bryan Caplan, himself a proponent of open borders, says as much:
If public support for immigration is so high, why has political opposition become so vocal? Because public support for immigration, though relatively high [compared to 1966-2002], remains absolutely low. And that’s all it takes for anti-immigration demagoguery to work. The real puzzle isn’t, “Why did Trump take a strong anti-immigration stand in 2016?” but “Why doesn’t every presidential candidate take a strong anti-immigration stand in every election?” And the obvious solution to this puzzle is elite-on-elite pressure: elites are more cosmopolitan than the masses – and shame fellow elites who dissent. Trump won by being the sort of elite who treats elite shame as a badge of honor. [emphasis in original]
I think that’s only part of the story. It’s also true that if you were a leading Republican politician in 2007, say, you most likely genuinely fell on the elite side of the opinion divide — and so did most of the people who talked to you about the issue. But it is an important part of it.