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CNN Poll: 88% of Americans Support Immigration Reform with a Path to Citizenship

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Poll Suggests Democrats Should Lean Into Immigration in 2016

New immigration polling from CNN highlights that pro-immigrant policies, such as an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, enjoy the overwhelming backing of the American public, while mass deportation and other policies associated with Donald Trump are unpopular even among many Republicans.

The key immigration policy questions and findings in the new CNN poll include:

88% of Americans support legislation with an earned path to citizenship, including 80% of Trump supporters: A whopping 88% of Americans support an earned path to citizenship when asked how we should treat undocumented immigrants, “who have been in this country for a number of years, hold a job, speak English and are willing to pay any back taxes that they owe … would you favor or oppose a bill that allowed those immigrants to stay in this country rather than being deported and eventually allow them to apply for U.S. citizenship?” As CNN’s accompanying poll recap notes, “Clinton and Trump voters agree even though the candidates don’t, with 80% of Trump’s backers saying they would support such a bill and 94% of Clinton’s backers behind the idea.” When CNN most recently asked the same question in Feb 2014, the margin in favor of citizenship over deportation was still strong but was more narrow at 81%-17%.

Majority of public backs legalization for undocumented immigrants as top immigration priority – only 11% say it should be deportation: When asked, “which of the following policy goals should be the government’s top priority” and presented with three options, “Developing a plan to allow those in the U.S. illegally who have jobs to become legal residents”; “Developing a plan to stop immigrants from entering the U.S. illegally”; or “Deporting immigrants already in the U.S. illegally”; a 51% majority chooses legalization versus 36% choosing the plan to stop immigrants from entering illegally and only 11% choosing deportation. The margin was narrower when last asked in November 2015, when 49% backed legalization, 37% supported stopping illegal immigration, and 13% supported deportation).

Two-thirds of Americans oppose deportation-focused approach: When asked, “Do you think the government should attempt to deport all people currently living in the country illegally or should the government not attempt to do that?” 66% of the public says we should not pursue a deportation-focused approach versus 30% in support. The margin was narrower, at 63%-35%, when CNN last asked this question in November 2015.

There has been a 22-percentage point swing against Trump’s border wall over the past year: When asked, “Would you favor or oppose building a wall along the entire border with Mexico?”respondents oppose the wall by 58% to 41%. When CNN last asked the same question, in a September 2015 poll, the public backed a wall by 52% to 47% — meaning that there has been a 22 percentage point swing against Trump’s wall over the past year.

Of note, CNN’s immigration polling was conducted after Trump’s dark and nativist immigration speech last Wednesday. Separate public opinion research from ABC News/SSRS research found that 67% of Americans had a negative reaction to Trump’s speech, versus only 27% who reacted positively to the Phoenix immigration speech.  The CNN numbers also echo those of a Gallup poll released in July 2016, which found that a whopping 84% of Americans (91% of Democrats, 85% of Independents, and 76% of Republicans) support “allowing immigrants living in the U.S. illegally the chance to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements over a period of time.”

Yet despite the massive and growing advantage on a range of immigration policy questions, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats backing pro-immigrant policies haven’t sufficiently defined themselves on immigration to much of the electorate. In fact, Clinton and Trump are virtually tied on a question assessing which candidate is trusted more on immigration in the CNN poll, despite overwhelming opposition to Trump’s policy vision. And as a new round of statewide Latino voter polling will show when released later this week, many Democratic Senate candidates are also failing to define themselves or their Republican opponents on the issue to Latino voters in battleground states (email press@americasvoice.org for embargoed Latino voter statewide polling information).

According to Frank Sharry, America’s Voice Executive Director, “The American people have decided: they want immigration reform with a path to citizenship. But this poll also contains a warning for Democrats: Trump’s extremism is not enough. If Democrats up and down the ballot don’t better emphasize and lean into immigration issues, they will miss a prime opportunity to connect with the vast majority of Americans who agree with their stances on a range of immigration policy questions. They also will miss the chance to drive a wedge between the significant segment of pro-immigrant Republican voters who disagree with Trump and many down-ballot GOP candidates’ embrace of nativist policy.”