Politics

Immigration reform group says polls showing support for pathway to citizenship are skewed

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

A new poll shows that only 11 percent of likely voters strongly back a conditional amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants, while 39 percent of the voters strongly favor the immigrants’ gradual return to their home countries.

The poll of 1,000 likely voters was taken by an immigration reform group, the Center for Immigration Studies, which openly favors a reduction in the annual intake of roughly 1 million immigration.

The poll clashes with results from other polling companies, some of which show apparently much higher support for letting illegal immigrants stay in the country.

The polls that show more support for letting illegals stay are touted by advocates for ethnic lobbies and progressive groups.

They’re pushing to win citizenship for the 11 million immigrants — including roughly 8 million working-age people — plus their relatives. Approximately 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. (RELATED ANALYSIS: In Obama’s economy, immigrants win out)

A Gallup poll of adults that was released Feb. 5 showed 72 percent approval among respondents when they were asked “Would you vote for a law that would allow undocumented immigrants living in the United States the chance to become legal residents or citizens if they meet certain requirements?”

But such loose questions — which includes two options, as well as a profusion of vague words, such as “undocumented,” “chance” and “certain requirements” — encourage Americans to express their normal sympathy for immigrants, said Steven Camarota, the research director at Center for Immigration Studies.

“Once you peel that stuff back,” he told The Daily Caller, “what the public generally wants is for illegals to go home and for the law to be enforced.”

The CIS poll was conducted in late January by Pulse Opinion Research. Thirty-nine percent of the respondents were Democrats, 32 percent were Republicans, and 72 percent were white.

Immigration is a “very difficult issue on which to measure public opinion,” said Glen Bolger, a pollster and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies.

Pollsters should pick their words carefully, and ask a series of 15 or more questions, he said.

Many Americans know few details about the issue, he said. In a poll, they know their view is not decisive, and they tend to express their sympathy for immigrants without having to grapple with the costs and benefits, he said.

“Generally, the best way to test the immigration issue is to give [respondents] both points of view and see what side most come down on,” he said.

“Many pollsters do a terrific job, but still it is important to understand how a change in words can affect the answers,” said Karlyn Bowman, a polling expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

Questions should not push respondents to approve only one desirable option — because Americans often want both options, she said. Instead, polls should allow respondents to say how much they favor each of several options, she told TheDC.

That’s important because “most people don’t feel a need to resolve their contradictory views,” she said. For example, many Americans believe abortion is murder, but also that it should be legal, she said.

On immigration, many Americans believe that “compassion for people who are here [illegally] is very important, and [also] that you want to keep your borders secure,” she said.

The main poll question in CIS’s poll was short and direct; “Would you prefer to see illegal immigrants in the United State go back to their home countries or be given legal status?”

Respondents were offered three options.

Fifteen percent picked “not sure.”

According to the poll, 52 percent of voters and 50 percent of “moderates” picked “go back to their home countries.”

A total of 33 percent of respondents and 32 percent of “moderates” picked “be given legal status.”