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Immigration: Paying Attention (Continued)


Last week, I noted (here and here) the conflict between two types of poll questions on the immigration bill now before Congress. Questions that tested reactions to descriptions of the various "provisions" in the bill have typically find majority support. Questions asking Americans whether they simply favor or oppose the bill find two-to-one opposition. Today, Gallup's Frank Newport released some new results and analysis (from a survey of 1,007 adults conducted June 1-3) that help confirm the underlying reasons for this apparent discrepancy.

I'll let Newport explain:

Previous surveys conducted by Gallup and other organizations have provided respondents with descriptions of the types of provisions included in the immigration bill now being debated in the Senate, and have asked for reaction . . .

The current research approached public opinion on the immigration bill in a different way. Rather than explaining or listing the contents of the bill, the research simply asked respondents how closely they were following news about the bill and then asked if they favored the bill, opposed the bill, or if they "didn't know enough to say."

Based on what you have heard or read about it, do you favor or oppose this proposed bill, or don't you know enough to say?

11% Favor
30% Oppose
58% Don't know enough to say
1% No Answer

Newport also finds even stronger opposition (61% to 17%) among the 18% who say they have been following the immigration debate "very closely."

Thus, as Newport puts it, these results illustrate a crucial "political reality:"

[T]he current debate on the bill agreed to in principle by Senate leaders and President Bush (and which is now being argued about in the Senate) is taking place in an environment in which the average American simply is not tuned in.

Moreover, "Those Americans who are following the debate closely are highly likely to be opponents of the bill."If you have been following polling on immigration, go read it all.

So what to make of all those previous results based on questions that describe the various provisions of the bill? We should keep in mind that these provide a measure of the way respondents react to new information and that their reactions may vary greatly along with the text of the descriptions provided. The lesson here is the same as for many other poll questions. If we are trying to understand "public opinion" on an issue, we need to distinguish between what public opinion is now and what it might be. Predicting future opinion is always a risky proposition.

Update: Newport has more on the immigration results in his Gallup Guru blog.

 

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