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New Immigration Polling: General Electorate Strongly Pro-Legalization, Although Republicans Remain Divided

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New polling shows that, once again, the general electorate is overwhelmingly in favor of an immigration solution that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  Add those who favor a path to legal status (not citizenship) and by a large margin Americans favor “give them a chance to stay” over “make them leave the country.”  This is true even in the ruby red state of South Carolina.

But what of Republican primary voters?  Are they joining Donald Trump and other hardliners in the “make them leave the country” camp?  A significant minority is in favor of deportation and their energy seems to be with this cohort for now.  But a powerful strain of pragmatism on the issue means that a majority of Republican voters still favor the “give them a chance to stay” option, at odds with the dominant lurch to the right among the GOP’s presidential contenders.  Here are some of the highlights:

In South Carolina, three-of-four respondents oppose the deportation-focused approach for the undocumented, while nearly 60% favor a pathway to citizenshipA new Winthrop University poll asks“Which comes closest to your view about what government policy should be toward illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States? Should the government – deport all illegal immigrants back to their home country, allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States in order to work, but only for a limited amount of time, or allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and become U.S. citizens, but only if they meet certain requirements over a period of time?”

Among all South Carolina respondents, 58% supported the citizenship option and an additional 16% supported the temporary legal worker option, meaning that a combined 74% of respondents are opposed to a deportation-focused approach (22% supported the deportation-focused option).  Even solely among Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents, a plurality (42%) supported the pathway to citizenship option, with an additional 21% supporting the temporary worker approach.  A contingent of 35% of Republican respondents favored deportation in the Winthrop Poll.  So, by a margin of 63% – 35%, Republicans in South Carolina favor the “give them a chance to stay” approach over the “make them leave the country” approach.

Republican voters divided on immigration, with slim majority favoring legalization, but intensity is with antisNew Pew Research pollingcaptures that Republican primary voters are divided about immigration policy: 43% of potential GOP primary voters are “more likely” to back a candidate who wants to deport all undocumented immigrants, while 29% are “less likely” to back a deportation-focused candidate and an additional 24% of likely GOP primary voters say it would not make a difference to their vote.  Overall, 66% of potential Republican primary voters called immigration “very important” to their vote, with the issue more central to the hardliner, pro-deportation contingent of GOP voters (84% of GOP respondents who said they were “more likely” to back a pro-deportation candidate said immigration was “very important” to their vote, vs. 44% of the GOP respondents who said they were “less likely” to back a deportation-focused candidate).  Other polls, including past Pew Research studies, demonstrate that when offered several policy options for treating undocumented immigrants, the deportation-focused hardliners don’t have backing of most Republican voters.  For example, an August Gallup poll found that self-identified Republicans nationwide supported legalizing undocumented immigrants by more than a 2-1 margin – 50% of Republican backed a path to citizenship; 18% supported allowing undocumented immigrants to remain and work in the U.S. for a limited time; and 31% supported deportation (for a combined 68% of GOP respondents who supported some type of legalization).  These findings are echoed by an array of other recent polling of Republicans on immigration – see this recap from August 2015 for a comprehensive look at where Republican voters stand on immigration: http://americasvoice.org/press_releases/where-do-republican-voters-stand-on-immigration/ 

The general electorate is broadly and durably in favor of a pathway to citizenship.  For example, the August Gallup pollfound that by a margin of 79% to 19%, the American public supported immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States (65% citizenship and an additional 14% temporary legalization).  Similar results have been consistently found in earlier polling from Pew ResearchPublic Religion Research InstituteFox NewsPolitico, and Quinnipiac.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Despite the claims of GOP leader Donald Trump, the real ‘silent majority’ of Republicans are the practical and problem solving contingent of GOP voters who don’t support deportation-only policy.  They are being outshouted by the smaller segment of diehard, anti-immigrant hardliners in their midst, who may be more energized by immigration and ascendant in this 2016 election cycle so far. Yet, unless and until Republican leaders stand up to the nativists, their candidates’ appeals to fewer than half of their own party will destroy chances among a general electorate that remains overwhelmingly in favor of immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.”