Public Religion Research Institute

Poll Confirms Majority Support for Immigration Reform, Explains GOP Obstruction

A survey released today by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution finds strong public support, across political and religious lines, for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for people now living in the country illegally.

When asked how the immigration system should deal with immigrants currently living in the country illegally, 62 percent of Americans favor allowing them a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, 17 percent favor allowing them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, and 19 percent favor identifying and deporting them.

A significant finding of the survey is that over the past four years, Americans went from evenly divided on the question about whether immigrants threaten American values or strengthen the country, to saying by an almost 20 percentage point margin that immigrants strengthen American society.

So why won’t the House of Representatives take up immigration reform?  The poll includes data that explains the lack of action from Republican leaders:  the party’s Tea Party base is the group most hostile to immigration reform, and white evangelical Protestants are the religious group most likely to favor mass deportation (30 percent) over a path to citizenship (48 percent) or other legal status (18 percent).

While a majority of Republicans, 51 percent, support a path to citizenship, about 30 percent of Republicans want to deport all immigrants living in the US illegally, compared to only 11 percent of Democrats.  Tea Party members are even worse, with as many Tea Party members supporting deportation as support a path to citizenship (37 percent). 

Also making action less likely in this election year are declining approval numbers for President Barack Obama, and a troubling lack of enthusiasm for voting in the mid-term elections among voters who most favor reform.  Latino voters and voters under the age of 30 are dramatically less likely than Republican leaning groups to say they are sure to vote this year: 30 percent for Hispanic voters and 24 percent for voters under 30, compared to 86 percent for Tea Party voters, 74 percent for seniors and 78 percent for Republicans.

The poll also demonstrates the influence of Fox News within the conservative movement and the GOP. Some 53 percent of Republicans said they trust Fox over any other news source: those Fox News Republicans are more than 20 percentage points more likely than other Republicans to say that immigrants today burden the country rather than strengthen it, and almost 20 percent less likely to support a path to citizenship.  There is a similar Fox effect among Independents.

One panelist commenting on the poll results was Robert Costa, a political reporter for the Washington Post, who said that when he or other political reporters are looking to get a comment from a Republican politician, they head to Fox News’s Washington bureau.  Costa said he sees obstacles to action on immigration reform next year, as the 2016 Republican presidential primary jockeying heats up, noting that Ted Cruz is pulling the party to the right on this and other issues.

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