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Nationwide Poll: Widespread Support for Reform, Increased Urgency

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While comprehensive immigration reform has some vocal opponents, in our recent national poll, we found that the vast majority of voters (two thirds or more depending on the details) favor comprehensive immigration reform, a position that has not wavered in the face of an economic downturn. There is widespread support for a comprehensive approach to solving the issue of illegal immigration – among all political parties, regions, ages, both genders, and those who are undecided on the 2010 Congressional race.  Voters see a relationship between comprehensive immigration reform and the economy and perceive an economic and fiscal benefit to passing reform.  In fact, the economic situation has increased the desire for quick action on immigration reform.

Widespread Support for a Comprehensive Approach  

Without giving an explanation of what comprehensive reform means or consists of, nearly two thirds of voters (64%) support it.  When voters are given the details of comprehensive reform (see appendix for proposal text), 86% support Congress passing comprehensive reform, with nearly 6 in 10 voters strongly supporting it.  Only 7% strongly oppose the plan (14% total oppose).   

More than 8 in 10 Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters support Congress passing comprehensive reform, as do 86% of voters who are undecided on the 2010 congressional race.  This indicates the potential appeal of comprehensive immigration reform as a bipartisan issue.  

The comprehensive proposal is seen as a balanced approach that is fair to both taxpayers (81% agree) and illegal immigrants (79% agree), and 91% agree that the comprehensive proposal would help taxpayers by making illegal immigrants pay taxes (64% strongly agree).    

Broad Support for Components of Comprehensive Reform

Regardless of the specifics of the question, at least two thirds of voters prefer a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.   

After we secure our borders, crack down on employers who illegally hire, and deport illegal immigrants who have committed crimes, nearly 7 in 10 (68%) voters argue that the remaining 12 million illegal immigrants should be required to register, meet conditions, and eventually be allowed to apply for citizenship.   

  • 62% of Republicans say that they should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship.  
  • The other 30% of voters are divided between forcing the 12 million illegal immigrants to leave the country (20%) and allowing them to stay temporarily (10%).

When given the choice between a comprehensive approach and one that secures the border, stops taxpayer benefits, and forces those who entered illegally to leave, 67% prefer comprehensive reform while 31% prefer the approach that forces the 12 million remaining illegal immigrants to leave.  More than 6 in 10 voters in all major demographic subgroups prefer the comprehensive approach over increased enforcement only.

Relationship with the Economy

The debate over immigration reform does not exist in a vacuum, and the economy is clearly the top issue facing the country.  However, the majority of voters perceive an economic and fiscal benefit to passing comprehensive immigration reform, and belief in the benefits of reform has been increasing.

By 71% to 26% voters argue that we would be better off if illegal immigrants became legal taxpayers over the notion that we would be better off if people in the U.S. illegally left the country because they are taking away jobs that Americans need. 

  • The percentage of voters who say we would be better off if illegal immigrants became legal taxpayers has increased 9% – from 62% to 71% – in the last 6 months. In a choice between the idea that the economy is in trouble and should be the President and Congress’ focus and the argument that the economic crisis makes it more crucial than ever that we solve our immigration issues, 57% support the idea that the economy makes addressing immigration more urgent and 39% prefer focusing on the economy. 
  • Support for the argument that the economic crisis makes it more crucial than ever that we reform immigration has increased from 43% in November 2008 to 57% now.

When asked which aspect of the issue of illegal immigration concerns them the most, half (49%) cite illegal immigrants using taxpayer services without paying taxes.  Smaller segments are most concerned that illegal immigrants broke the law to enter the country (20%), that they take away American jobs and depress wages (17%), and don’t speak English (8%).

Congress Should Act Quickly

There is bipartisan support for immigration reform to take place this year.  Voters argue that Congress can handle multiple issues at once, and more voters are supportive of Members of Congress who argue that the economy and immigration reform can be addressed simultaneously than Members who say we should deal with the economy first.

72% of voters support Congress tackling immigration reform this year and not waiting until later (42% strongly support), including two thirds or more of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

By 59% to 39%, voters favor the idea that Congress can handle multiple issues at the same time and should tackle immigration reform this year over the notion that Congress has too much on its plate this year with the economy and health care reform and should wait and tackle immigration reform later.  60% of those undecided on the 2010 Congressional ballot and 63% of Independents prefer Congress acting this year since they can handle multiple issues at once, key groups for the re-election chances of incumbent members.  

A Member of Congress who argues that we can address immigration reform and deal with the economy at the same time has a 25% advantage over a Member who contends that before we address immigration reform, we have to deal with the economy so immigration reform may have to wait until next year or longer (75% more favorable/22% less favorable and 62%/34% respectively).  Among those undecided in the next congressional election, 84% are more favorable toward a Member of Congress who says we can deal with the economy and immigration at the same time, while 14% are less favorable – net 70% more favorable for action now (42% more net favorable than for a Member who says economy first).

BSG conducted 1000 interviews nationwide with likely voters May 9-12, 2009. The margin of error is ±3.1%.  Some of Mr. Brodnitz’s recent clients include Governor and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine (VA), Senator Jeff Merkley (OR), Senator Jim Webb (VA), and Representatives Mary Jo Kilroy (OH), Tom Perriello (VA), Lincoln Davis (TN), and Tim Walz (MN).  Mr. Brodnitz, who conducted this survey, was named “Pollster of the Year” by the American Association of Political Consultants in 2007 for his work for Kaine, Webb and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.  It is a bi-partisan award given to one pollster every two years.