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New Pew Poll: Broad Support for Legalization of Undocumented Immigrants, Big Challenges for the GOP

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Democrats represent the mainstream view, GOP contenders mostly pander to the GOP base

As a new Pew Research Center poll released yesterday confirmed, support for legal status continues to be the mainstream position in the immigration debate.

Julia Preston of the New York Times writes:

“In the survey, 72 percent of Americans said immigrants here illegally should be allowed to stay if they meet some requirements, results that have varied little over the last two years. They included 42 percent of Americans who say those immigrants should be allowed to become citizens and 26 percent who say they should only become permanent residents.

Among Republicans, a majority of those questioned — 56 percent — supports a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants. Republicans are generally critical of their party’s performance on illegal immigration, with 59 percent saying the party is not doing a good job representing their views on how to deal with illegal immigration.

In Congress and among the large field of presidential contenders, many Republicans have moved right on the issue, rejecting legalization and calling for tougher enforcement and border security.

According to the Pew poll, a majority of Americans — 58 percent — reject the idea that allowing undocumented immigrants to gain legal status is rewarding them for ‘doing something wrong.’

Among Hispanics, a fast-growing electorate that candidates from both parties are courting, 86 percent say there should be a path to legal status, with 54 percent of Hispanics saying undocumented immigrants should be allowed to become citizens.”

We noted yesterday that immigration is shaping up as one of the sharpest points of contrast between the two parties in the 2016 presidential race.  While Democrats are embracing pro-immigrant policies and leaning into the new politics of immigration as never before, Republicans seem intent to ignore the lessons of the 2012 election cycle and the specific immigration advice contained in the RNC’s post-election autopsy report.

However, despite the continued broad support for pro-immigrant policies amongst general voters, Pew’s findings regarding Republican voters shed light on why immigration remains such a tricky issue for the GOP field, especially as they head into a crowded primary season. As Lauren Fox of the National Journal reports:

“In recent months, 2016 candidates and others seriously considering the race have stumbled over how to answer straightforward questions about where they stand on a path to citizenship or legalization for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Wall Street Journal story in March reported that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told a small group in New Hampshire that under some circumstances, he could support a path to citizenship for immigrants. Walker’s spokesperson later said that was not his position. Nowadays, when asked about immigration, Republican candidates would prefer to talk about securing the border before wading into the danger zone of legalization or citizenship specifics, if they wade into it at all.

And there is some reason for their pause. While the majority of Republicans in the Pew poll say they support a path to legalization, many Republican voters still view immigrants as a negative. The Pew poll finds that 63 percent of Republican voters still consider immigrants a ‘burden’ on the U.S. economy rather than a boon, and 58 percent see giving immigrants legal status as akin to ‘rewarding’ them for breaking the law.”

So with pro-immigration policies earning broad support amongst key shares of the general electorate and with Republican voters lurching further and further right, what does this mean for the Republican Party in 2016?  In short, trouble.

Kerry Eleveld of the Daily Kos explains it best:

“The GOP has gerrymandered its way out of the presidency. Their voters are primed to vote for extremely right-wing candidates in the House who focus on a very narrow set of issues and, in turn, those voters don’t want to settle for anything less in the presidential.

It’s an impossible standard for any presidential candidate who wants to have even a shred of crossover appeal in the general election.”

Added Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “The American people get it.  They support common sense immigration reform that formally welcomes undocumented immigrants to the Americans family – and by an overwhelming margin.  While some believe Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley are carving out a ‘left’ position, the fact is their support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants places them squarely in the mainstream.  The vast majority of the GOP contenders, on the other hand, are so concerned with pandering to their nativist base that they are disconnected from a view held by both a majority of American voters and an intense supermajority of Latino voters.  It gives new meaning to the famous Jindal quote that the GOP should stop being ‘the stupid party.’”