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Recent Immigration Polling: Americans Remain Strongly Pro-Reform Despite Anti-Immigrant Politicking

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Support for Legal Status, Path to Citizenship and Immigration Reform Remain Strong, Especially When Given Details

Five public polls that included questions regarding immigration policy have been released in the past week.  Three were national polls, sponsored by the New York Times/CBS News, Washington Post/ABC News and NBC News/Wall Street Journal (with a Latino voter oversample).  In addition, Politico did a battleground poll of competitive House districts and Senate states, and USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times polled California voters (also with a Latino voter oversample).

A close examination of the polling reveals that, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, the American public still favors immigration reform that includes a path to legal status and citizenship.  Support grows significantly when questions specify the criteria for qualifying for citizenship.  And while support for reform has slipped among Republicans, Latino voter support remains intense and strong.  Here are the key takeaways:                                                                                                                                                                   

Support for a path to legalization and citizenship for undocumented immigrants remains broad – especially when a description of the requirements are included.

  • The New York Times/CBS News poll asked respondents’ views on whether illegal immigrants” should be either “allowed to stay in the U.S and eventually apply for citizenship,” “allowed to stay in the U.S. legally, but not be allowed to apply for citizenship,” or “should be required to leave” the country.  The poll found that a majority of 50% preferred the “citizenship” option, 13% supported the legalization but no citizenship option, and 32% favored the deportation option – meaning that a combined 63% of respondents support either citizenship or legalization.
  • The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 53-45% support for “a pathway to citizenship that would allow foreigners who have jobs but are staying illegally in the United States the opportunity to eventually become legal American citizens.”  When the same poll included a description of the component requirements alongside the pathway to citizenship, “a pathway to citizenship…if they pay a fine, any back taxes, pass a security background check, and take other required steps,” overall support jumped 19 percentage points, with 72% of respondents in favor of the proposal.
  • The Washington Post/ABC News poll found 50-46% support for giving undocumented immigrants “the right to live and work here legally,” without including a question that described criteria for legalization.
  • The Politico battleground poll found 66-33% support for “comprehensive immigration reform” (provided without a description) and separate 51-49% support for a “pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants now living in the United States” (without requirements for citizenship described).
  • The USC Dornsife/LA Times poll found overwhelming 73-21% support among California voters for comprehensive immigration reform in a question that spelled out many of the component provisions of reform in detail.

The “secure the border” talking point is viewed as a Republican excuse to block progress on immigration rather than a real reason to delay reform.

  • The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll asked, “When you hear Republicans say that immigration reform must wait until the border is secure, do you think that is a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed first before immigration reform can take place, or they are using that as an excuse to block action on immigration reform?” Overall, 40% of voters believed this was a “legitimate concern” vs. 52% who viewed this as an excuse to block immigration reform (the “excuse” number was 66% among Latino respondents).

Latino voters remain animated by immigration and, while losing faith in President Obama, still overwhelmingly prefer Democrats to Republicans. 

  • The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll included an oversample among Latino voters that found that Obama’s approval rating had fallen to 47% among Latino voters, a decline from 66% in October 2012.  Notably, as a polling summary by NBC News “First Read” political team noted, “And FYI: Much of the poll was conducted BEFORE Obama’s announcement that he was postponing any executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections.”
  • Despite President Obama’s declining approval ratings among Latinos, the NBC/WSJ Latino oversample also found that Latino voters still strongly preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress over a Republican Congress by a 61%-28% margin and that the Democratic Party enjoyed a positive favorability rating among Latinos by a 46-28% margin, while the Republican Party’s standing among Latinos was negative (29% favorable, 44% unfavorable).
  • Immigration remains a major driver of the Latinos’ differing views on the parties, with Latino voters overwhelmingly in favor of immigration reform and executive action on immigration.  The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that by a 77-18% margin, Latino voters supported a “pathway to citizenship.”  The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also found that only 29% of Latinos viewed Republican border security talking points as a legitimate concern that should block progress on immigration reform, while 66% of Latino voters viewed it as a Republican excuse used to justify blocking immigration reform.
  • The Washington Post-ABC News poll found that by an overwhelming 80-15% margin, Latino respondents were in favor of executive action on immigration and by an 82-14% margin, Latino respondents believed that “undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States should be given the right to live and work here legally.” Finally, as detailed in the USC Dornsife/LA Times poll, California’s Latino voters support comprehensive immigration reform by a 76-17% margin (including 47% who “strongly” favored). 

Executive action is popular – which is noteworthy given President Obama’s low approval ratings.

  • The Washington Post-ABC News poll asked: if Congress does not act to address the immigration issue, do you think Obama should or should not take action on his own through executive orders?  By an 8-percentage point margin, respondents favored the president taking action (52-44%).
  • The New York Times/CBS News poll found similar levels of support for executive action.  By a 51-43% margin respondents supported the idea that “If Congress does not act to address the immigration issue…Barack Obama should…take action using executive orders?”  The majority support for executive action is especially notable due to the inclusion of President Obama’s name in both questions and the President’s low approval ratings in the very same polls (42% in the WP/ABC poll; 40% in the NYT/CBS poll). 

In contrast to Latino voters, Republican support for immigration reform has declined.

  • The numbers were not all positive on immigration reform.  Several of the recent polls included questions asking whether a 2014 candidate’s support for a pathway to citizenship would make voters more or less likely to vote for that candidate.  Both the Washington Post/ABC News poll and the New York Times/CBS News poll found, by a nine percentage point margin, respondents were  “less likely to vote for” candidates supporting a pathway to citizenship (with no requirement descriptions included) compared to the “more likely to vote for” response (Wash Post/ABC found 27% “more likely” vs. 36% “less likely;” NYT/CBS News found 30% “more likely” vs. 39% who were “less likely”).  In the Washington Post/ABC News poll, 34% said a candidate’s position would not have much of an impact on the respondent’s vote, while 26% said the same in the NYT/CBS News survey.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly given the lurch to the right by the national Republican Party and recent fear-mongering by conservative media, Republican poll respondents’ support for reform has eroded and driven much of the negative numbers on these voting-focused questions.  Carrie Dann of NBC News had this to say regarding the NBC News/WSJ poll: “One of the most precipitous declines has come from Republicans.  In April 2013, before the Senate passed a comprehensive deal that was ultimately rejected by the GOP-led House, almost half – 47 percent – of Republicans said they favored a path to citizenship.  That number is down 15 points to just 32 percent.”
  • In the Post/ABC News poll, only 17% of  Republicans were “more likely” to back a pro-path to citizenship candidate in 2014, while 55% were “less likely.” However, these numbers were almost exactly reversed among Latino voters in the Post/ABC poll – 54% of Latinos were “more likely” to back pro-path to citizenship 2014 candidates vs. only 8% who were “less likely.”

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

Despite increased anti-immigrant politicking from Republican candidates, declining support from Republican voters and growing timidity from Democrats, public support for a path to legal status and citizenship remains durable and resilient.  The majority of voters want action instead of excuses, even if it comes in the form of executive action.  Most importantly, Latino voters strongly support reform and executive action, which represents an existential threat to a GOP that is cementing its reputation as an anti-immigrant party and a challenge to a Democratic Party that too often seems to take Latino voters for granted.