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Attitudes Toward Immigration Reform in Swing Districts

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Description: Polling, which included overall national results and analysis of both Latino voters and swing voters from key battleground congressional races, echoes the results from the 2008 elections: Americans are seeking practical and common sense reform to the broken immigration system and favor approaches and candidates emphasizing sensible reforms instead of enforcement-only provisions. The conventional wisdom that dominated in the media following the immigration reform debates in 2006 and 2007 appears to be erroneous, according to the results.


  • While the economy is by far voters’ top concern, more than 8 in 10 (84%) swing district voters say immigration is a “serious” problem (including 79% of Democrats, 83% of Independents, and 92% of Republicans).  

  • Voters in swing districts overwhelmingly prefer a comprehensive approach to immigration over solely focusing on border security, ending benefits and requiring people who are in the country to leave.  When the choice is between a comprehensive approach and simply enforcing the current laws, by more than 2 to 1, voters prefer a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.  

  • When testing the public’s voting preference in swing districts with one candidate supporting comprehensive reform (the Supporter) and another preferring enforcement and benefit cut-off (the Opponent), the Supporter led by 24%, 57% to 33%.   Even after voters heard strong criticisms of the Supporter’s position on immigration, the Supporter retained an average 17% edge over the Opponent.  When voters were given a response to the attack on the Supporter’s support for comprehensive reform, the Supporter’s position again improved to a 19% lead over the Opponent.

  • Support for comprehensive immigration reform improved voter perceptions of the Supporter along a variety of dimensions.  We asked voters whether a number of attributes applied better to the Supporter or the Opponent, and the Supporter led on every issue and leadership characteristic, including an advantage on immigration by 30%, standing up for the middle class by 19%, problem solving by 18%, and handling the economy by 16%.  Support for comprehensive immigration reform notonly enhances the public’s view of a candidate on the issue of immigration, but it also increases voter support for that candidate along a variety of other dimensions, including voters’ confidence in the candidate’s approach to improving the economy.

  • Swing district voters overwhelmingly favor a comprehensive approach to immigration reform over other options.  By 66% to 27%, voters prefer comprehensive immigration reform to border enforcement, benefit cutoff, and deportation.  Support for comprehensive reform crosses party lines – more than 6 in 10 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents prefer a comprehensive approach.  Comprehensive reform is also preferred by a large majority of persuadable voters – 63% of voters who were undecided as to which congressional candidate to support when the survey was conducted (late September – early October) prefer a comprehensive approach.

  • When asked specifically what the next session of Congress should do, nearly two thirds (64%) of voters prefer that Congress passes comprehensive reform, while only 27% would rather see the current laws enforced more strongly.  Comprehensive reform is preferred by the majority of Democrats (74%), Independents (64%), and Republicans (54%).  And among those most conflicted about which candidate to support, nearly two-thirds (63%) prefer that Congress pass comprehensive reform.

  • Nearly 7 in 10 voters in swing districts support requiring people who are not in the country legally but who are otherwise law-abiding to register, meet conditions and become legal rather than providing them with temporary status or requiring them to leave the country, while only 15% believe “illegal immigrants” should be deported and 13% that they should be allowed to stay temporarily.   

The Benenson Strategy Group and Lake Research Partners conducted 3371 interviews in 9 swing Congressional districts with likely voters September 23 – October 5, 2008.  The margin of error for overall results is ±1.89%.