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Why Did NBC News, Esquire and Obama's Pollster Joel Benenson Ask a Steve-King-Style Question on Immigration?

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Yesterday, NBC’s Chuck Todd was busy hyping a new “exclusive” poll sponsored by NBC News and Esquire Magazine on what those two media entities refer to as “The New American Center.” Frankly, the story was more befitting of NBC’s entertainment division than its news division.

The poll was conducted by Joel Benenson from Benenson Strategy Group and Neil Newhouse from Public Opinion Strategies. The gimmick here (and this whole thing felt like a gimmick) is that Benenson polled for Obama and Newhouse polled for Romney.  Here’s the question they asked on immigration: “Do you support providing illegal immigrants with a path to citizenship even thought they have broken the rules?” Seriously? Did Benenson and Newhouse hire Rep. Steve King to write that one? Because it sounds a lot like King — not supposedly respected pollsters.  It’s as if they asked, “do you support amnesty for lawbreakers?”  How did Obama’s pollster find it appropriate to use such a loaded question?

When it comes to polling on immigration, we’ll stick to the ones released by news organizations without the entertainment spin.  Take the NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll completed in April of 2013.  Chuck Todd’s colleague in the political unit of NBC News, Mark Murray, wrote about the strong support for immigration reform in an article titled “NBC/WSJ poll: Strong majority backs citizenship for undocumented immigrants.” For the immigration question, the pollsters asked, “If a proposed pathway to citizenship allowed foreigners who have jobs but are staying illegally in the United States the opportunity to eventually become legal American citizens if they pay a fine, any back taxes, pass a security background check, and take other required steps, would you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this proposal?” The results 76% favor, either strongly or somewhat.

Murray wrote:

With a bipartisan group of senators expected to unveil immigration-reform legislation in the next few days, a brand-new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that nearly two-thirds of Americans – including eight-in-10 Latinos – support giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

A slight majority of Republican respondents oppose this path, possibly foreshadowing the resistance which any comprehensive immigration reform bill might receive, especially in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

But when Republicans hear that a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants includes paying fines and back taxes, almost three-quarters of them support the idea.

What’s more, a majority of the public – for the first time in the poll – agrees with the statement that immigration strengthens the nation, reflecting a shift in attitude on this issue.

Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with the Democratic firm Hart Research Associates, says that this change in sentiment on immigration “speaks to something potent,” particularly given the economic struggles of the past five years.

“These more positive attitudes provide more leeway for lawmakers to build support for change on this issue,” McInturff adds.

And that particular poll isn’t the only one finding strong support for immigration reform with a path to citizenship.  Countless other polls from recent weeks and over the years–from PPP, Quinnipiac, Latino Decisions, Lake Research, Gallup, and many others–have found overwhelming support for such a proposal.  This NBC/Esquire poll, thanks to its loaded questioning, is a far-removed outlier.

Seems to us that the poll from NBC News/Wall Street Journal was trying to get a sense of where the American people stand on key issues,  like immigration, while the NBC/Esquire poll was trying to create some hype. It’s a shame the pollsters played along.