On Left and Right, Consensus Support for Immigration Reform

July 10, 2014

Introduction

A year after the passage in the Senate of sweeping immigration reform legislation, the House has
yet to act on immigration reform or any piece of reform. The Senate approach has been disparaged
by House Republican leaders who have repeatedly stated they will not take up the Senate’s bill.
Instead, they’ve stated a preference for a “piecemeal” approach. While a number of bills have
passed through committees, none has been taken up on the floor of the House, and no bill has
been considered in committee that tackles the big question of what to do with undocumented
immigrants.

Meanwhile, the American public has consistently supported immigration reform similar to that
outlined in the bipartisan Senate plan, which includes a path to citizenship for undocumented
immigrants. Dozens of polls have asked the public—and more specifically the voting public—what
should be done about undocumented immigrants. When pollsters describe an approach similar
to what was included in Senate legislation, a majority of respondents, time and again, have said
they favor the approach. Specifically, the public favors allowing undocumented immigrants to
gain legal status and eventually apply for citizenship if certain conditions are met—learning
English, paying taxes, having no criminal history, etc.

On this point, the partisan divide in Congress is greater than it is in the general public. Democrats,
Republicans, and Independents favor a conditional path to legal status or citizenship for
undocumented immigrants. There are loud and passionate voices that want nothing other than
mass deportation for undocumented immigrants, but those voices are a minority and do not
reflect public consensus.

Following is a discussion of the public’s answers to questions about the treatment of
undocumented immigrants. These questions have been included in national and regional polls
going back months. This paper will include only those polls conducted immediately prior to the
passage of Senate legislation up to the present time, and includes some polls focusing exclusively
on Republican or Hispanic voters.

  • Harper Polling (June 24 to 28, 2014, of 1,000 likely voters nationwide): This poll,
    commissioned by the Partnership for a New American Economy, the Business Roundtable
    and the National Association of Manufacturers, asked respondents their opinion about an
    immigration plan similar to Speaker Boehner’s “immigration principles” released early in
    2014. That is, a plan that,

 “secures our borders, expands visas for high-skill workers and farm workers,
provides an employer verification program, allows young persons brought to
the U.S. illegally by their parents an opportunity to earn citizenship, and
provides visas to live and work here legally to undocumented immigrants
without a criminal record who pay penalties and back taxes.”

Overall, 61% of respondents said they would “strongly” or “somewhat” support
such a plan. A majority of Republicans, 54%, said they would support such a plan, as
did 76% of Democrats and 61% of Independents.

Respondents were also asked to choose which treatment of undocumented immigrants
they most agreed with—deportation, legal status without citizenship or legal status with
eligibility for citizenship. Overall, 68% were in favor of allowing undocumented
immigrants to stay, with only 28% choosing deportation, and the rest split evenly
between citizenship and no citizenship. Majorities of Republicans (54%),
Democrats (76%), and Independents (69%) said they supported allowing
undocumented immigrants to stay, with Republicans and independents preferring
legal status without citizenship, and Democrats favoring eligibility for citizenship.

This poll also tested the idea that the immigration system can’t be fixed because of a
concern about the administration’s enforcement of existing laws. Nearly three-quarters
(72%) of respondents did not think that was a valid reason not to fix problems
that exist with current laws. While Republicans in Congress have used this argument as a
reason for their inaction on immigration reform, only 18% of Republican voters in
this poll agreed.

  • Basswood Research (June 11, 2014, of 400 voters who voted in the June 10 Republican
    primary election in Virginia’s 7th congressional district): When House Majority Leader Eric
    Cantor was defeated in the primary for his reelection bid, many commentators believed the
    immigration issue was partly or largely to blame, with Cantor’s primary opponent, David
    Brat, pledging to oppose “amnesty.” This survey of voters, commissioned by Americans for
    a Conservative Direction, revealed that immigration was not an important issue to them.
    Among those who voted for Brat, 22% cited immigration as the main reason for their vote.
    Given a list of five Obama administration policies and asked which they thought was
    most harmful to America, only 4% picked immigration. These voters were also asked,
    “Do you support or oppose an immigration reform proposal that would …
    secure the border with significantly more border patrol agents and fences,
    crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and allow the 11
    million illegal immigrants who are currently in America to have a pathway to
    becoming U.S. citizens, only after they meet certain requirements, including
    passing a criminal background check, paying a fine, learning English, and
    waiting a period of years?”
    Even among those who voted for Brat, there is 69% support for such a proposal,
    not much different than the 72.5% of all these voters who support such a proposal.
     Public Policy Polling (June 10, 2014, of 488 voters in Virginia’s 7th congressional
    district): This more general survey of voters in Virginia’s 7th district also found majority
    support for immigration reform in the district. Reform legislation now before Congress was
    described (including “eligibility for a path to citizenship” after “a long list of requirements
    is met over more than a decade”). A strong majority (72%) said they supported that
    plan, including 70% of Republicans.
     Collaborative Survey with 10 Republican Polling Firms (Poll 1: May 17 to 23, 2014,
    of 800 registered voters nationwide, with an oversample of 505 Republican voters. Poll 2:
    May 27 to June 1 of Hispanic registered voters nationwide): In Poll 1 of the survey of
    registered voters, respondents were asked for their opinion about how undocumented
    immigrants should be treated. By more than a three to one margin, most thought
    undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay, rather than being “sent back
    to their home country,” with 41% saying “they should eventually be allowed to apply for
    citizenship,” and 32% saying “they should be allowed to apply for legal status but not
    citizenship.” Only 22% said undocumented immigrants should be deported.
    Results were not much different for those identifying themselves as “tea
    party” Republicans, “conservative” Republicans, or “strong” Republicans. By
    a two to one margin, these voters preferred allowing undocumented immigrants to stay
    rather than being forced to return home. Among these groups, legal status without
    citizenship is slightly preferred over allowing immigrants to eventually become citizens.
    In Poll 2 of Hispanic voters, 83% said they considered immigration reform to
    be “very important” (56%) or “somewhat important” (27%) when determining
    who to vote for in Congress. 88% said they believe undocumented immigrants should
    be allowed to stay, and among those voters there is a slight preference for allowing
    undocumented immigrants to become citizens (47%) verses legal status without citizenship
    (41%)
    When asked who is to blame for Congress’ failure to pass immigration reform in the past
    few years, Hispanic voters were far more likely to blame Republicans (49%) verses
    Democrats (11%) or the president (11%). These voters were also asked whether they would be more likely to listen to what Republicans in Congress had to say on other issues if
    Republicans supported immigration reform and give them a second chance. The answer
    illustrates why immigration is considered a gateway issue: 76% of respondents said they
    would be more likely to give congressional Republicans a second chance if they supported
    immigration reform. Only 20% said they would not.
     Center for American Progress Action Fund/Latino Decisions Immigration
    Poll (May 16 to 23, 2014, of 800 Latino registered voters): Another survey aimed at taking
    the temperature of Latino voters on immigration reform and the debate in Congress found
    that 66% of respondents said they were “very closely” or “somewhat closely” paying
    attention to the debate. Most (89%) said that it is important that Congress address
    immigration reform before the next election. Should immigration reform not pass
    this year, respondents said they would blame Republicans over Democrats by a three to
    one margin. On the other hand, if Republicans support immigration reform with a path
    to citizenship, nearly two-thirds of respondents (61%) said they would be more likely to
    listen to Republican ideas on other issues.
     Politico (May 2 to 13, 2014, of 867 likely voters in states and districts with the most
    competitive Senate and House races): This survey asked voters if they “support or oppose
    comprehensive immigration reform,” without describing conditions included in the Senate
    legislation—conditions that generally raise positive response. Still, the total supporting
    reform in this survey was 71%, including 64% of Republicans, 71% of independents and
    78% of Democrats.)
     McLaughlin & Associates (May 9 to 12, 2014, of 400 Republican primary voters
    nationwide who said they identify “strongly” or “somewhat” with the tea party movement):
    This survey identified voters who identified with the concerns of the tea party, then
    asked them their opinion about immigration reform. The results were consistent with other
    polls conducted earlier in the year. A plan with content similar to parts of the Senate bill
    was described, and a strong majority—more than 75%—said they supported such a
    plan. These Republican voters were also asked if they would rather vote for a candidate for
    Congress who focuses exclusively on border security and enforcement, or for a candidate
    who
    “…supports broad immigration reform that would increase border security
    and a way for undocumented immigrants who are already in this country to
    stay in this country if they pay penalties, pay back taxes, pass a criminal
    background check and learn English and American civics.”
    Consistent with their preference for immigration reform that includes a way to deal with
    the undocumented, 69% said they would prefer a candidate who supports broad
    reform.
    When given the choice between deporting all undocumented immigrants, allowing them to
    gain legal status but never citizenship or allowing them to eventually gain citizenship
    (provided they meet certain conditions), respondents favored allowing undocumented immigrants to stay by nearly a two to one margin, but were
    evenly split between citizenship 35.5% and legal status with no citizenship (34.2%).
    When asked how important it was to them that Congress act this year on immigration
    reform, seven in ten respondents said it was “very” or “somewhat” important
    to them.
     Public Opinion Strategies (May 6, 2014, of 400 past and present Republican primary
    voters in North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district): The incumbent in this district, Renee
    Ellmers, has expressed support for immigration reform and won her primary. This survey
    found that 71% of Republican primary voters in the district support a reform
    plan that includes “improved border security and enforcement, as well as a way for the
    undocumented immigrants who are already in this country to stay in this country, IF they
    pay penalties, pay back taxes, and learn English.” A majority of voters (67%) also said
    they would rather vote for a candidate who supports such a plan.
     Public Religion Research Institute (April 7 to 27, 2014, call back survey of 1,534 adults
    nationwide): The Public Religion Research Institute, in partnership with the Brookings
    Institution, called back the same adults surveyed a year ago, to gauge changes in public
    opinion on a range of issues. The conclusion was that the public supports a path to
    citizenship and it has consistently done so throughout the current congressional debate on
    immigration reform. In 2014, 79% of respondents felt that immigrants “currently living in
    the U.S. illegally” should be allowed either to “become citizens provided they meet certain
    requirements” or to “become permanent legal residents, but not citizens.” A year ago, the
    total was 77%. A path to citizenship is the preferred option, with 62% support.
    A report accompanying the survey breaks down attitudes by various characteristics,
    including political affiliation. As with other surveys mentioned in this paper, this survey
    finds that allowing undocumented immigrants to stay and become either citizens or
    permanent residents is supported by Democrats (87%), Independents (77%),
    Republicans (68%) and even supporters of the tea party (60%). The report finds
    that the biggest predictor of opposition to immigration reform is trust in Fox News.
    Interestingly, Fox News, like other major media outlets, does its own public opinion
    surveys, and those surveys are consistent with all the others. (For example, this Fox News
    survey from January 2014 found 68% support for a path to citizenship, including 60%
    support among Republicans.)
     New York Times/CBS News (February 19 to 23, 2014, of 1,644 adults nationwide): This
    poll asked the question:
    “Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are living in
    the U.S.? 1. They should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply
    for citizenship. 2. They should be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally, but not
    be allowed to apply for citizenship or 3. They should be required to leave the
    U.S.”Overall, a substantial majority, 69%, said that “illegal immigrants” should be
    allowed to stay. Preference for allowing immigrants to stay crossed party lines. A
    majority of Republicans (58%), and strong majorities of Democrats (82%) and
    Independents (69%) supported that option. Overall, allowing immigrants to apply for
    citizenship was favored (53%) over allowing them to stay without having the chance to
    become citizens (16%).
     Pew Research Center (February 14 to 23, 2014, of 1,821 adults, including an oversample
    of young adults aged 18 to 33): Respondents were asked: “Which comes closer to your view
    about how to handle undocumented immigrants who are now living in the U.S.? Should
    they not be allowed to stay in the country legally, or should there be a way for those who
    meet certain requirements to stay in the country legally?” Overall, 73% said they should
    be allowed to stay, including 81% of Democrats, 74% of independents, 64% of
    Republicans, 61% of “conservative Republicans” and 56% of tea party supporters.
    Respondents were given a choice between allowing undocumented immigrants to gain
    citizenship (46%) verses legal status without citizenship (24% favoring that option). Even
    among conservative Republicans, citizenship status was preferred (31% to 27%). Only
    among those who said they identified with the tea party was there a slightly greater
    preference for legal status without citizenship—28% to 25%.
     University of Texas/Texas Tribune (February 7 to 17, 2014, of 1,200 registered voters
    in Texas): This survey of Texas voters found a majority supports comprehensive
    immigration reform:
    “Do you support or oppose passing a comprehensive immigration overhaul
    at the federal level that would provide a pathway to citizenship for most illegal
    immigrants currently living in the United States?”
    Overall, 51% said they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” immigration reform. The
    pollsters note that support for immigration reform has increased by six percent among
    Texas voters since the question was asked in October 2013.
     Gallup Poll (February 6 to 9, 2014, of 1,023 adults nationwide): This poll included a
    question asking Americans how important it was to them that the government took steps
    this year to deal with 1) “controlling U.S. borders to halt the flow of illegal immigrants into
    the U.S.,” and 2) “developing a plan to deal with the large number of illegal immigrants
    who are already living in the U.S.” For the first time since Gallup began asking that
    question, an equal number of Americans felt it was “extremely important” to
    deal with the current undocumented population (44%) as it was to deal with
    border security (43%). While 56% of Republicans said it was “extremely important” to
    secure the border, this represents a decline of 12% since Gallup asked that question in
    2011, and is consistent with a similar drop in concern about border security among
    Democrats and Independents.
     Basswood Research and GlobalStrategyGroup (February 3 to 5, 2014, of 800 likely
    general election voters plus an additional 200 oversample of Republican voters): This survey found that there was 64% support overall for “providing a pathway to citizenship
    for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants presently in the country.” Among
    Republicans, there was 50% support, but when the proposal is described in more
    detail, support goes up:
    “Some people are proposing that we provide a 13-year pathway to citizenship
    for undocumented immigrants presently in the country, as long as they meet
    requirements such as passing a background check, learning English, and
    paying fines and back taxes.”
    When described this way (more closely matching the Senate’s legislation), support
    among Republicans rose to 64%, and overall support rose to 71%.
     CNN/ORC International (January 31 to February 2, 2014, of 1,010 adults, including
    900 voters nationwide): This poll included the following question:
    “Here are some questions about how the U.S. government should treat illegal
    immigrants who have been in this country for a number of years, hold a job,
    speak English and are willing to pay any back taxes that they owe. Would you
    favor or oppose a bill that allowed those immigrants to stay in this country
    rather than being deported and eventually allow them to apply for U.S.
    citizenship?”
    Overall, 81% of respondents said they favored such a plan. Only 17% were opposed.
    Support extended across party and ideological lines. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of
    Republicans said they supported the plan, compared to 88% of Democrats and 81% of
    independents. Of those who said they were conservative, 75% supported the plan. Even
    72% of those who said they were tea party supporters said they supported allowing
    undocumented immigrants to stay here and eventually apply for citizenship. There was not
    much difference among age groups. Among 18- to 34-year olds, support was 88%, while
    among those 65 and older, support was 80%.
    Earlier Polls
     Fox News (January 19 to 21, 2014, of 1,010 registered voters nationwide): “Which of the
    following comes closest to your view about what government policy should be toward illegal
    immigrants currently in the United States?” (Allow illegal immigrants to remain in the
    country and eventually qualify for US citizenship, but only if they meet certain
    requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check:
    68%)
     CBS News (January 17 to 21, 2014, of 1,018 adults nationwide): “Which comes closest to
    your view about illegal immigrants who are living in the U.S.?” (They should be allowed to
    stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for citizenship: 54%)
     Quinnipiac University (November 6 to 11, 2013, of 2,545 registered voters nationwide):
    “Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently living in the United States?” (They should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply
    for U.S. citizenship: 57%)
     Public Religion Research Institute (November 6 to 10, 2013, of 1,005 adults
    nationwide): “Which statement comes closest to your view about how the immigration
    system should deal with immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally?” (Allow
    them a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements: 63%)
     CBS News (October 18 to 21, 2013, of 1,007 adults nationwide): “Would you favor or
    oppose providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the U.S. if they met certain
    requirements including a waiting period, paying fines and back taxes, passing criminal
    background checks, and learning English?” (Support: 77%)
     Quinnipiac University (July 28 to 31, 2013, of 1,468 registered voters): “As you may
    know, the U.S. Senate recently voted to pass legislation reforming the immigration system.
    The bill would allow illegal immigrants already in the country to become citizens after 13
    years if they pay a fine and learn English. The bill would also double the number of border
    patrol agents, and double the amount of fencing along the Mexican border. In general, do
    you support or oppose this bill? (Support: 64%)
     Public Policy Polling (July 26 to 27, 2013, of 700 registered voters): “There is bipartisan
    immigration reform legislation being debated in Washington. The bill would secure our
    borders, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, and make sure that
    undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with no criminal record register for legal
    status. If a long list of requirements is met over more than a decade, it provides eligibility
    for a path to citizenship. Would you support or oppose this proposal?” (Total support: 73%)
     America’s Voice/Latino Decisions (July 20 to 23, 2013, of 800 Latino voters in 24
    competitive congressional districts represented by incumbent Republicans): “Congress is
    considering different ideas to include in the immigration reform bill. … One plan would
    increase border security and enforcement of our existing immigration laws, require
    employers to verify that all employees have legal status, and provide a pathway to
    citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as long as they pass a background check, study
    English, and pay a fine. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or
    strongly oppose this immigration plan?” (Total support: 78%)
     CBS News (July 18 to 22, 2013, of 1,036 adults): “Would you favor or oppose providing a
    path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the U.S. if they met certain requirements
    including a waiting period, paying fines and back taxes, passing criminal background
    checks, and learning English? (Favor: 78%)
     Washington Post/ABC News (July 10 to 14, 2013, of 1,004 adults): “Overall, do you
    support or oppose a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants now living in the
    United States?” (Support: 55%)
     United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection (July 11 to 14,
    2013, of 1,002 adults): “As you may know, the U.S. Senate recently voted to pass legislation
    reforming the immigration system. The bill would double the number of border patrol
    agents, double the amount of fencing along the Mexican border, and allow immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally to become citizens after 13 years if they pay a fine and learn
    English. The House of Representatives is now considering what to do with this bill. Which
    describes what you would like the House to do?” (Eliminate the provisions providing
    citizenship for illegal immigrants and then pass the bill: 13%)
     Latino Decisions and Hart Research (July 8 to 12, 2013, of 600 Latino voters): “In
    your opinion, how high a priority should it be for Congress to pass immigration reform
    legislation that includes an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants?”
    (High or very high priority: 69%)
     Quinnipiac University (June 28 to July 8, 2013, of 2,014 registered voters): “Which
    comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently living in the United
    States? A) They should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for
    U.S. citizenship. B) They should be allowed to remain in the United States, but not be
    allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship. C) They should be required to leave the U.S.” (Should
    be allowed to stay in U.S. and apply for citizenship: 54%)
     Basswood Research (July 8, 2013, of 1,000 voters with a history of voting in Republican
    primaries) Among the key findings of this poll: 65% of Republican voters support a
    pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants if it is coupled with substantially increased
    border security, and another 8% support a pathway to citizenship even without extra
    border security.
     Public Policy Polling (July 5 – 7, 2013, of varying number of voters in seven competitive
    congressional districts in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada and New York): “Do you
    support or oppose an immigration reform plan that ensures undocumented immigrants
    currently living in the U.S. pay a penalty, learn English, pass a criminal background check,
    pay taxes, and wait a minimum of thirteen years before they can be eligible for citizenship?”
    (Support: ranging from a high of 77% in California’s 21st Congressional district to a low of
    65% in California’s 31st district)
     Gallup Poll (June 13 – July 5, 2013, of 4,373 adults): “Would you favor or oppose each of
    the following as part of legislation to address the issue of illegal immigration?” (Allowing
    illegal immigrants to become citizens: 88%)
     Gallup Poll (June 15 – 16, 2013, of 1,015 adults): “Would you vote for or against a law that
    would allow illegal immigrants living in the U.S. the opportunity to become citizens after a
    long waiting period if they paid taxes and a penalty, pass a criminal background check, and
    learn English?” (Vote for: 87%)
     United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll (June 13
    – 16, 2013, of 1,004 adults): “Which comes closer to your view about how to handle
    immigrants who are now living in the U.S. illegally?” (There should be a way for those who
    meet certain requirements to stay in the country legally: 71%)
     Pew Research Center and USA Today Poll (June 12 – 16, 2013, of 1,512 adults):
    “Which comes closer to your view about how to handle undocumented immigrants who are
    now living in the U.S.?” (There should be a way for them to stay in the country legally, if
    certain requirements are met: 71%) CNN/ORC International Poll (June 11 – 13, 2013, of 1,014 adults): “The U.S. Senate is
    considering an immigration bill that would attempt to increase border security and create a
    path to citizenship for many immigrants who are in this country without permission from the
    U.S. government. Based on what you have read or heard about this bill, do you favor or oppose
    it?” (Favor: 51%)
     Fox News Poll (June 9 – 11, 2013, of 1,019 registered voters): “Do you favor or oppose
    allowing the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country to remain in the country
    and eventually — years down the road — qualify for U.S. citizenship, as long as they meet
    certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background
    check?” (Support: 74%)
     Alliance for Citizenship, Partnership for a New American Economy and
    Republicans for Immigration Reform Poll (June 2 – 10, 2013, of 500 or more likely
    voters in each of 29 states): “Do you support or oppose an immigration reform plan that
    ensures undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. pay a penalty, learn English,
    pass a criminal background check, pay taxes, and wait a minimum of thirteen years before
    they can be eligible for citizenship?” (Support across 29 states: 72%)
     Bloomberg Poll (May 31 – June 2, 2013, of 1,002 adults): “For each of the following
    elements that might be part of a new law, please tell me if you favor or oppose it as part of
    an immigration bill: Allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to become citizens,
    provided they don’t have criminal records, they pay fines and back taxes, and they wait
    more than 10 years.” (Support: 74%)
     NBC News-Wall Street Journal Poll (May 30 – June 2, 2013, of 1,000 adults): “If a
    proposed pathway to citizenship allowed foreigners staying illegally in the United States
    the opportunity to eventually become legal American citizens, would you strongly favor,
    somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this proposal?” (Strongly or
    somewhat favor: 52%)