A new poll  by the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings Institution documents that broad and growing support for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for immigrants now in the country illegally, cuts across religious and political lines. Sixty-three percent of Americans, including majorities of all religious groups, agree that immigration reform should provide a path to citizenship, along with 71% of Democrats, 64% of independents, and 53% of Republicans. The survey’s unusually large size – 4,465 interviews conducted in both English and Spanish – allowed the pollsters to draw conclusions about religious and political subgroups.
In a panel discussion of the poll results in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, March 21, Brookings fellow William Galston pointed out that 58% of white working class Americans support the DREAM Act and 56% support reform that includes a path to citizenship.
Columnist and Brookings fellow E.J. Dionne noted that the “halfway” position that has been promoted by some Republicans – a legal status that falls short of citizenship – is the least popular of three options among rank-and-file Republicans – after a path to citizenship and mass deportation. Dionne noted that on immigration reform the Republican leadership has a “coalition management problem” that Democrats do not face.
On that point, Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, said that the Tea Party represented the biggest challenge for pro-reform Republicans. Tea Party supporters were the only group expressing majority support for a “self-deportation” strategy. Among Republicans, 57% of evangelicals not associated with the Tea Party support a path to citizenship. Among non-evangelical Tea Party members, support for a path to citizenship is 46%; support drops to 44% among Republicans who are white evangelicals and Tea Party members. Jones said this “Teavangelicals” group constitutes about 10 percent of the Republican rank-and-file; in contrast, Republicans who are neither Tea Partiers or evangelicals make up nearly half of those who consider themselves Republicans and 54% of them support a path to citizenship.