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New Polling: Democrats Need to Lean In and Deliver on Immigration This Year

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Washington, DC – A must-read column from Paul Waldman of the Washington Post, titled “How Democrats can take control of the immigration debate,” captures the key political dynamics and the legislative way forward for Democrats on immigration. Highlighting new polling conducted by Global Strategy Group, Hart Research, and BSP Research on behalf of FWD.us, the Immigration Hub, and America’s Voice, Waldman writes:

“[T]he politics of immigration remain essentially unchanged. Republicans are aggressive and confident, always sure that whatever gets their base afraid and angry is good for them, while Democrats are tentative and uncertain, always afraid of what might anger people who probably aren’t going to vote for them anyway. This is why some immigration advocates are trying to convince Democrats that they need to ‘go on offense’ on the immigration issue.”

The polling memo summarizes the key findings of a recent battleground survey: 

  • Efforts supported by Democrats to build a fair, orderly, and humane system at the border are popular and preferred by the public over Republicans’ cruelty and chaos. 
  • Democrats should lean into the citizenship debate. With 70 percent public support on a series of legalization proposals, Democrats can win the debate by owning citizenship proposals, defining themselves on the border debate, and embracing the contrast with Republicans.
  • The public is largely unaware of the Biden/Democratic vision, which creates a vacuum that cedes the framing of the issue and the solutions to Republicans. 

See the full polling results and related summary memo here.

So what does this mean for the current moment and the way forward? Democrats should lean into the issue, make citizenship the focal point of the debate, and deliver on long-awaited legislative victories.

  • Republican ugliness on immigration backfires politically beyond the hard-core base: As BSP pollster Gary Segura told Waldman, “…the unadorned viciousness of the Trump policies has hurt them. ‘I do think they’ve paid a price in the suburbs. There are white female suburban voters who do not care for the politics of meanness’ — and that’s an area of increasing strength for Democrats. Don’t forget that in 2018, Trump tried to make the election all about supposedly threatening ‘caravans’ from Central America, and Democrats won a sweeping victory.”
  • Democrats need to – and can – deliver on immigration without Republicans: As Waldman writes, “In the past, Congress has repeated a disheartening pattern … Well-meaning legislators work out a bill that they believe can garner bipartisan support. Then the whole effort collapses when sufficient support from Republicans in one or both houses never materializes…. So if there’s going to be reform legislation, advocates hope it can be included in a budget reconciliation bill, which only requires a majority in both houses and would include hundreds of other things Democrats support. ‘There’s finally a chance to get it done without relying on Republicans,’ said Frank Sharry, the executive director of the advocacy group America’s Voice. ‘We have a path to victory that does not rely on one Republican vote.’”
  • Community voices are raising their voices to call on Democrats to deliver: As Alex Vazquez, Montgomery County, Maryland Organizer, CASA, said on a press call last week, “After decades of struggle, we are on the cusp of achieving real relief for immigrant families and thousands came to Washington [for the We Can’t Wait rally on Thursday] to make sure it happens. In light of the commitments on reconciliation we heard at the rally, Democrats are poised to use every tool available while Republicans seem destined to remain in the dustbin of nativism. Americans agree, and the need is apparent: #WeCantWait to win citizenship for 11 million.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

The political and legislative incentives are lined up for Democrats to deliver on citizenship for millions this year. They should lean in with confidence and be assertive of the Democratic plan to modernize our immigration system in stark contrast to the ugly, do-nothing Republican approach. The broad majority of the country is with them, but they won’t give points for effort; Americans want to see victory.