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Polls Dispute Conventional Wisdom

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Despite conventional wisdom in Washington that the economic downturn and high unemployment makes now a bad time for Congress to debate comprehensive immigration reform, a series of polls conducted in November 2008, May 2009, and December 2009 show that the American people want Congress to tackle the issue in 2010, and are strongly in favor of a comprehensive proposal that puts undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship if they register, pay taxes, and meet other criteria. 

The poll results were discussed on Monday, January 11, during a telephonic briefing with Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, and Pete Brodnitz, a principal at Benenson Strategy Group, a strategic research and consulting firm that conducted the May and December surveys.

BSG conducted a poll of 1000 likely voters from May 9-12, 2009 and another poll of 800 likely voters from December 19-21, 2009, asking the same questions about voters’ attitudes toward the economy, immigration reform, and Congress.  The results from this time series show that support for reform has remained constant in the face of harsh economic conditions; voters believe that the current immigration system is broken and needs fixing; and voters prefer a solution that would require undocumented immigrants to become legal and make them pay taxes over a proposal to deport them because they are “taking jobs.”

Among the findings:

  • Voters continue to want Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation: 64% percent in May and 66% in December.
  • Support for reform cuts across party lines: 69% of Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 62% of Republicans support “comprehensive immigration reform,” before hearing details of the proposal.
  • When given details, support for comprehensive reform climbs.  Requiring undocumented immigrants to register with the government and meet certain conditions, including working, paying taxes and learning English in order to apply for citizenship, was supported by 93% of voters in May and 87% in December. 
  • More than 2/3 of voters say we would be better off if undocumented immigrants became legal taxpayers, while less than a third say we would be better off if they left the country because they are “taking jobs”: 71% to 26% in May and 67% to 28% in December.

“Voters support reform that requires illegal immigrants to become legal, meet conditions like passing a background check, studying English and paying taxes,” said Brodnitz.  “Most Americans believe that comprehensive immigration reform will be fair to taxpayers.”

Said Sharry: “Clearly the American people recognize that the problems in the immigration system can no longer be ignored and that fixing the broken immigration system is consistent with fixing the economy,”. “They understand what is at stake and want their elected officials to act soon. That support for comprehensive immigration reform crosses party lines suggests that the issue is ripe for a bipartisan breakthrough in Washington, DC.”

The poll results and other surveys are available at: http://americasvoiceonline.org/pages/polling

A recording of today’s call is available here.