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Anna Greenberg: The Immigration Moment

Topics: George Bush , Immigration , Pollsters

[Editor's Note: Today's Guest Pollster Corner item comes from Anna Greenberg, Vice President of the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.]

Along with taxes and security, immigration represents one of the pillars of Republican attacks on Democratic attacks this year. Regardless of the district or state, an inflammatory attack on Democrats for allegedly supporting amnesty and Social Security benefits for illegal immigrants fill the airways and mailboxes. But the data are not so clear that attacking Democrats on immigration is terribly effective, at least in many races. While many Americans hold hostile views towards immigrants and are deeply disturbed by the notion that illegal immigrations receive government benefits (which is not entirely true), the debate as it has played out has not necessarily benefited Republicans.

In a recent national survey, we found that Democrats actually have an advantage on the immigration issue among all voters, and Independents, in particular. Moreover, in an exercise where we test two statements -- one that presents the Republican attack on Democrats for supporting amnesty and benefits for illegal immigrants and one that presents the Democratic argument that is supportive of border security and points out the federal failure on immigration -- the Democrat wins the argument by healthy margin.

The Republican failure to effectively exploit anti-immigrant views stems from the fact that the issue has more nuance than "amnesty versus no amnesty." While many voters believe illegal immigration is a real problem, they have real differences about the right solution. For example, no matter how many activists support the "security fence" along the border, voters have real questions about its effectiveness and cost. Many also agree that simply deporting 11 million illegal immigrants is not practical and some believe it would be inhumane. Republicans have also been divided on the issue and are not speaking with a clear voice; most national polls going into the mid-term elections showed that Bush and the Republican had no clear political advantage on the immigration issue, in part because of the conflict between Bush, McCain and the House.

Finally, some Republicans are challenged by just sounding too extreme (not to mention alienating Hispanic voters). I would point to Arizona's 8th district as an example where extreme views on immigration have hurt the Republican candidate (full disclosure: I work for the Democratic candidate, former state senator Gabrielle Giffords). But even in other races where the issue is fully engaged by less extreme candidates on immigration -- the PA Senate race, IL 6th, and IN 2nd are some examples -- Democrats have certainly weathered the attacks or even increased their leads after being attacked on immigration. At the end of the day, other issues might simply be crowding out immigration in these competitive races, but I would argue that Republicans have miscalculated the power of the issue and that Democrats have strong arguments that counter their attacks.

 

Comments
Nick Panagakis:

I have seen the same ads here in Illinois in support of Republican candidates in the 6th and the 8th Districts.

Perhaps the objective is to target Republicans and drive them to the polls on November 7th, nothing more.

We did polls in these districts for the Chicago Tribune that ran last Sunday in the Tribune - front page.

Illegal immigration ranked *first* as an issue of most/next most concern to Republicans, 41% in the 6th and 48% in the 8th.

Effective? I don't know. No previous polls to compare with. I agree the claims are exaggerated. But it is the top Republican concern. The 6th is very tight and in the 8th the Democratic incumbent is well out in front.

Issues most/next most concerned about (5 of 7) � IL 6th District
Situation in Iraq: Dems 61%; Reps 31%; Ind 50%
Economy & jobs: Dems 42%; Reps 26%; Ind 34%
Illegal immigration: Dems 19%; Reps 41%; Ind 30%
Affordable health care: Dems 33%; Reps 18%; Ind 28%
Terrorism threat to U.S.: Dems 15%; Reps 33%; Ind 18%

Issues most/next most concerned about (5 of 7) � IL 8th District
Situation in Iraq: Dems 51%; Reps 29%; Ind 46%
Economy & jobs: Dems 41%; Reps 32%; Ind 32%
Affordable health care: Dems 49%; Reps 18%; Ind 35%
Illegal immigration: Dems 19%; Reps 48%; Ind 31%
Terrorism threat to U.S.: Dems 13%; Reps 31%; Ind 21%

8a-b. "Of the issues raised in the campaigns for Congress this year, which one of these are you most concerned about�..(Shuffle answers) Which one concerns you next most?

Nick

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