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Polling: Old Conventional Wisdom on Immigration is So Yesterday

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A spate of new polls offer further evidence that the old conventional wisdom on immigration politics is like, so yesterday.

The old conventional wisdom went something like this: Democrats should avoid controversy by staying away from hot button issues like immigration.  Leaning in only mobilized conservatives, pushed swing votes away, and put Democrats on the defensive.   Proponents of this view included none other than Rahm Emanuel, who in 2007 famously said that immigration has “emerged as the third rail of American politics…And anyone who doesn’t realize that isn’t with the American people.”   The old conventional wisdom also held that Republicans could use extremist positions on immigration as a wedge issue to produce the same effects.

But this election season has completely destroyed this old political thinking.  President Obama’s announcement of the DREAMer deferred action program and his recent advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform has not hurt him politically, but rather has helped him – with Latino voters, with progressive voters and with swing voters.  Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s hard line immigration policies may have won over a few culturally conservative voters in the primaries, but has not helped him at all with swing voters in the general election–and has hurt him badly with Latino voters.  Finally, immigration is no longer the third rail issue it was just a few years ago.

Below is a slew of new polling that shows that Obama is running ahead of Romney on “who do you trust on immigration?” type questions – even among likely voters in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania where pro-immigrant positions are supposed to backfire – and that his positions in favor of granting legal status and earned citizenship for undocumented immigration win strong majority support.

Washington Post – Obama More Trusted on Immigration in FL and OH Polling: In new Washington Post polling of likely Florida and Ohio voters, President Obama holds an advantage over Romney on the question “which candidate do you trust to do a better job handling immigration,” leading by a 48%-41% margin in Florida and a 48%-40% margin in Ohio.

Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS Finds Voters in FL, OH, and PA Each Think Obama Would Do Better on Immigration:  In New Quinnipiac University, the New York Times, and CBS News polling of likely voters in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, the pollsters asked, “who do you think would do a better job on immigration – Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?”  In Florida, Obama leads Romney on immigration by a 51%-42% margin; in Ohio, by a 48%-43% margin; and in Pennsylvania, by a 51%-41% margin.

Overwhelming Support in Florida for DREAMer Deferred Action Program:  In Florida, the Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll also asked, “As you may know, the Obama administration has announced a new policy in which young illegal immigrants who came to the country as children will be able to obtain work permits and will not face deportation. Do you support or oppose this new policy?”  By a whopping 66%-28% margin, likely Florida voters support this DREAMer deferred action program.

Pew Research Shows Immigration is Not at Top Voting Issue Overall, But Voters Overwhelmingly Support Path to Citizenship Option: Pew Research Center for People and the Press issued new polling on voters’ top issue priorities, finding that immigration is less of a focus for voters nationwide in 2012 compared with the 2008 campaign: “In the new survey, 41% view the issue of immigration as very important – the lowest of 12 issues tested – compared with 52% in August 2008.”  In June, Pew explored Americans’ nuanced attitudes on immigration, finding that a combined 69% of Americans favored some sort of path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, with 42% supporting an approach that “gives equal priority to tighter restrictions on illegal immigration and creating a path to citizenship for people in this country illegally” and 27% supporting the description that, “a way for illegal immigrants to become citizens alone should be the priority.”  Only 28% of Americans supported the dominant current Republican approach that says “tougher border security and stricter law enforcement alone should be the priority.”

Pew and Latino Decisions Show Obama Lead Among Latino Voters is Sizeable: Pew Research Center for People and the Press also found in a mid-September nationwide survey that Obama currently leads Romney among likely Latino voters nationwide by a 72%-22% margin.  These numbers are similar to the findings of the Latino Decisions/impreMedia weekly tracking poll of Latino voters – with the most recent edition of the poll finding President Obama leading Romney 69%-24% among likely Latino voters nationwide.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

For too long, too many Democrats have feared that leaning into immigration reform would backfire with white swing voters.  These polling results underscore the fact that this fear is outdated and misplaced.  From President Obama, with his bold move this year to protect young people who are Americans in all but paperwork, to Senator Reid, whose 2010 re-election was bolstered by fighting for the DREAM Act, the reality is that Democrats win when they fight for policies that the majority of the public sees as common sense.   Meanwhile, when Republicans run hard right on the issue, they lose not only with Latino voters but with swing voters, too.  This is why we are confident that immigration reform a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is matter of when, not if.