The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Michael Earls
(202) 494-8555

Warning to Both Parties: Misread the Public on Immigration, Continue to Face Backlash

In-Depth Polling Shows that Voters Embrace Practical Solutions, Support Candidates Who Favor Comprehensive Immigration Reform


New polling
from Gallup shows that Republicans now have a sizable advantage over
Democrats on a range of policy issues, including immigration. When
asked if congressional Republicans or congressional Democrats would
handle the immigration issue better, Gallup found that the public favors
Republicans by a 50% - 35% advantage.

in the Republican Party might take comfort at these findings, believing
that a hard line is working with voters. But they adopt this view at
their own peril. Unless Republicans and Democrats alike scratch beneath
the surface to understand the nuances of public opinion on immigration
reform, they will continue to miss the mark with voters who want a real
and lasting solution. The fact is, voters want action. Democrats
haven't been as clear as the public wants about their plans to enact
comprehensive immigration reform. And while Republicans might initially
score points for sounding "tough," once voters hear what they stand for
they turn away from unrealistic sound bites and embrace a practical

to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America's Voice: "Public opinion
on immigration reform is complex, and politicians clearly don't get it.
Americans are frustrated with the status quo, and with politicians who
treat illegal immigration like a political football instead of focusing
on solutions. Unless Democrats clearly articulate their comprehensive
immigration reform agenda, voters will continue to wonder what they
stand for. And unless Republicans find a way to end their intra-party
war on immigration and work responsibly on a practical solution, Latino
voters will continue to write off the GOP, with big implications for
2010 House and Senate races as well as the 2012 presidential contest."

Survey after survey after survey has shown that the public strongly supports comprehensive immigration reform.
Research that scratches beyond the surface shows that while some voters
initially choose the Republicans on immigration, they swing
dramatically toward the Democrats after learning what the party stands

For example:

  • In May 2010 polling
    conducted by Hart Research Associates in the moderate-to-conservative
    states of Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, and Ohio, voters were asked
    which party would "do a better job handling illegal immigration." At
    the beginning of the survey, 36% of voters chose the Republican Party
    and 24% the Democratic Party. After hearing specifics about the two
    party's views on the issue, as well as strong Republican attacks against
    the Democratic proposal for comprehensive reform, support swung 16
    percentage points, giving the Democrats a four point advantage
    on the issue. When asked why they supported the Democratic approach,
    51% said it was because immigrants "would be required to get legal and
    pay their fair share of taxes," versus 21% who said it was because the
    plan would crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers and 15%
    who focused on its border security elements.
  • In a June 2009 survey by Benenson Strategy Group in three battleground House districts - Alabama's 2nd Congressional District, California's 3rd District, and Idaho's 1st
    Congressional District - voters in the ID and AL surveys showed a
    preference toward Republicans when asked at the top of the survey whose
    approach to immigration reform most closely reflects their point of
    view. In California's 3rd District, voters broke evenly for
    the Democrats and the Republicans. But as elements of the Democrats'
    reform plan were explained, support for comprehensive immigration reform
    climbed to extremely high levels (88% in ID-1, 87% in AL-2, and 83% in
    CA-3), and respondents were more likely to support candidates who
    championed comprehensive reform than those who opposed it (85% to 8% in
    ID-1, 83% to 12% in AL-2, 79% to 16% in CA-3).
  • The same was true in a series of surveys
    in nine congressional battleground districts, conducted right before
    the November 2008 elections by Benenson Strategy Group and Lake Research
    Partners. According to the pollsters, "Candidates associated with
    support for comprehensive reform were perceived more favorably than
    candidates supporting enforcement only. After we inform voters that one
    candidate supports comprehensive reform (who we label 'Supporter' in
    this memo) and another candidate favors enforcement and benefit cut-off
    (who we call 'the Opponent' in this memo), significantly more voters
    trust the Supporter to handle immigration reform and improving the
    economy and more voters believe the Supporter will stand up for the
    middle class."

failure to understand where the public is on immigration reform has led
to paralysis instead of progress, and it's time they pay attention.
Voters are frustrated with the broken immigration system and see it as
an example of how Washington simply does not work. They support
comprehensive reform because it is a tough, fair, and practical
solution, in contrast to the deportation-only fantasies of some on the
far right. Lawmakers who speak up frequently and forcefully about the
need for comprehensive immigration reform will be rewarded, not
punished, by constituents who want to resolve illegal immigration,"
concluded Tramonte.

For more on public opinion about immigration reform, see:

America's Voice -- Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform. The mission of America's Voice is to realize the promise of workable and humane comprehensive immigration reform. Our goal is to build the public support and create the political momentum for reforms that will transform a dysfunctional immigration system that does not work into a regulatory system that does.