Apropos of Eric Cantor’s downfall, the Brookings Institution and the Public Religion Research Institute have a new report (PDF) out Tuesday on a bilingual poll of 1,538 adults (not likely voters or citizens) on “immigration reform.”
These kind of surveys are mostly pretty useless since the public isn’t supposed to know what “immigration reform” means. Many citizens naively assume that immigration reform means reforming procedures to enforce the laws on immigration, such as by cracking down on the rampant immigration fraud.
Now, you know and I know that “immigration reform” has instead become Washington Insider Code for amnesty but nobody who is anybody will admit that. The most the New York Times news reports will admit is that some “angry” opponents of Immigration Reform allege it is “amnesty.”
Thus, the word “amnesty” never appears in the poll or in the 61-page report on the results!
Not surprisingly, the results are all over the place in terms of correlation with ideology. The Brookings authors (including E.J. Dionne) note:
Interestingly, there are no significant differences of opinion between Democrats and Republicans when they are asked about the priority of immigration reform. …
One thing that’s obvious from the report is that few supporters of amnesty care much about it.
Those who support deportation are also much more likely than other Americans to care about the issue of immigration and to report that they are certain to vote. Nearly half (46%) say that reforming the nation’s immigration system should be the highest priority for the president and Congress compared to 21% of supporters of a path to citizenship and 26% of Americans overall. Approximately 6-in-10 (61%) deportation supporters report that they are absolutely certain to vote in the 2014 congressional election compared to 48% of supporters of a path to citizenship and 51% of Americans overall.
The Brookings analysts write:
The people as a whole see the acceleration of job creation as the top priority, with reducing the budget deficit and health care costs also scoring high. Enacting immigration reform and addressing climate change trail far behind, while dealing with moral breakdown occupies a middle position.
When we turn to subgroups, some surprising results emerge. For example when asked to rate particular issues as a highest, high or lower priority, only 36% of Hispanics regard immigration reform as a highest priority, compared to 62% who list jobs as the highest priority and 49% who cite health care costs. In fact, there are few differences over priorities across racial and ethnic lines. By substantial margins, whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics care most about job creation and least about immigration and climate change. All three groups rank moral breakdown fourth on the list of six. Whites and men as a whole care more about the deficit than about health care costs, while the reverse is the case for African-Americans and women.
One might have expected issues such as climate change and immigration reform to score high among young adults. Not so: only 22% gave a “highest priority” rating to climate change and even fewer (17%) to immigration reform. Only 29% of self-described liberals view climate change as a highest priority issue, and only 22% put immigration reform in that category.
Two things appear to be true at the same time when it comes to the political implications of immigration reform. On the one hand, as our colleagues show in their essay, opposing immigration reform appears to be more of a political liability than an asset. This helps explain why some Republican leaders are urging their party to act on a comprehensive approach. On the other hand, immigration reform ranks low on Americans’ list of priorities, which is why Republicans resisting immigration reform can argue that the risk of offending parts of their base opposed to comprehensive legislation exceeds the risk of inaction.