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More Data, More Clarity: The Majority Wants Both Pathways to Legal Status and Border Security

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Exit polls from last week’s Super Tuesday GOP primary races in Virginia, North Carolina, and California continue to reinforce the conclusion drawn from results in New Hampshire and South Carolina: a significant portion of the party’s primary base hasn’t been swayed by GOP candidates’ extreme and unworkable deterrence-only approach, and wants to see a pathway to legal status.

In Virginia, 69% of former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s voters said they believed undocumented immigrants should be offered a chance to apply for legal status, nearly matching the 70% support seen in South Carolina last month and surpassing the 68% support in New Hampshire in January. The numbers for Haley voters were lower in the North Carolina and California GOP races, at 50% and 46%, respectively.

Exit poll results from the three states also showed a sizable chunk of indicted former President Donald Trump’s base splitting with him on his signature issue, most notably in California, where 43% of his voters said they supported legalization. In both North Carolina and Virginia, 32% of Republican voters said they were in favor of legalization. The massive investment in nativist attacks by Trump – including his plan to assemble what he calls “the largest deportation effort this country has ever seen” – simply doesn’t resonate with 1 in 3 GOP voters. It appeals to his hard-core base but is not the effective general electoral strategy he and his minions think it is.

Of course, among the hardcore MAGA base that has fully bought into the false notion that hard-working immigrant moms and dads represent an existential threat, immigration is their top issue, as was seen in North Carolina. Republicans have also been “hammering the issue with hard ad dollars,” as Kerry Eleveld at Daily Kos reported. These voters are locked in, America’s Voice Senior Research Director Zachary Mueller noted in a Bluesky thread. “We are not getting them.”

“But, and this is the critical point, they are not the majority, and we do not need to win them to assemble a winning majority,” Mueller continued, noting the clear 30% of GOP voters across the five primary races who said they prefer legalization over mass deportation. “This is 30% of GOP base voters saying they have the opposite issue preference than the stated position of the Party’s main issue for the cycle.”

This chunk of Republican voters makes up the supermajority of the broader electorate that supports a path to citizenship. A recent Wall Street Journal poll found “some 74% support creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for many years and pass a background check.”  

This sizable portion of the GOP base is part of the majority of American voters who support a balanced  immigration approach that focuses on both border security and the need for legalization and legal immigration. This strategy works. Just ask Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), who beat Republican Mazi Pilip by 8 points in a special election, to flip the seat most recently held by disgraced former Congressman George Santos. If there was one race where the GOP’s nativist strategy should’ve worked, it was this one. It didn’t.

Poll after poll shows most Americans prefer a balanced approach over a solely border and enforcement approach. While Americans are concerned about the border, they want action over the status quo. Polling from Global Strategy Group found that 68% of all voters wanted “a balanced approach that includes both border security and protects Dreamers, providing them and other eligible immigrants with a pathway to citizenship.” 

By contrast, only 32% of all voters wanted “an enforcement-only approach that exclusively focuses on border security and limiting the use of asylum.” Pro-immigrant visions can have a pathway in Congress. In 2019 and 2021, House Democrats passed the Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act with GOP support. For comparison, the House GOP’s draconian H.R.2 –  also known as the Child Deportation Act – passed without any bipartisan support.

There’s also indications that most Americans are not yet tuned in to the draconian immigration agenda for 2025 that Republicans are proposing. It’s an extremist white nationalist vision out of step with where the American people are at, but it is also backed by Trump’s promise to become a dictator to enact the agenda. His words. On multiple occasions. 

This anti-democrat extremism may be undervalued, as Greg Sargent notes in a recent piece at the New Republic. Remarking on a poll about the awareness of Trump’s most authoritarian statements, he writes that “when respondents were presented with these quotes, it prompted a rise in Trump’s negatives. For instance, after hearing them, the percentage who see him as ‘out for revenge’ jumped by five points, the percentage who see him as ‘dangerous’ rose by nine points, and the percentage who see him as a ‘dictator’ climbed by seven points.”       

“At this point in the cycle, immigration is effectively all Republicans have left to run on,” Eleveld reported, noting the recent visit by Trump to the border. That border stop saw Trump relying on the deadly claim that immigrants are invaders out to do us harm, claiming that  they “look like warriors to me.” Trump also continued to politicize a tragic killing in Georgia as part of his shameless effort to link immigrants and crime, even though undocumented immigrants commit crime at lower rates than U.S.-born Americans (and despite his own 91 felony charges).

But even after not one but two different so-called “migrant crimes” stories pushed by top Republicans turned out to be completely bogus, we shouldn’t hold our breaths and wait for Republicans to adjust their electoral strategy heading into the November elections. This is all they have, and they’ll keep pushing it even as it alienates 30% of their base voters, as was seen in GOP primary races through Super Tuesday.

“Despite nativist attacks failing to deliver at the ballot box in cycle after cycle, Republicans, with Trump still leading their party, are not going to switch tactics,” Mueller told the DailyKos. Eleveld concludes: “And even if Republicans wanted to switch tactics, what would they switch to?”