President Barack Obama would leave himself vulnerable to retaliation from swing voters if he imposes an amnesty for several million illegal immigrants, according to the internal data in recent Reuters polls.
The polling in July and August shows lopsided opposition by independent and swing voters to legal and illegal immigration, and shows increasingly skeptical attitudes — including among Hispanics — toward the wave of young immigrants who are crossing the border from Central America.
That’s a major problem for Obama, who may announce — as soon as this weekend — executive orders to give work permits to several million illegals.
His deputies signal that he may do the deed because the House has rejected his top second-term priority, passage of a so-called comprehensive immigration reform bill. The bill would have provided a path to citizenship for illegals in the country, and doubled the annual inflow of guest workers and immigrants to roughly four million per year. That would have been a huge inflow — roughly four million Americans turn 18 each year. The bill would have also designated more money for border security and an E-Verify system.
The rightward national shift is an opportunity for GOP populists, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions, who says the public should protest the pending amnesty, and that reduced immigration would boost Americans’ wages.
But Obama’s amnesty plan is aided by a leftward lurch his base supporters. That suggests his pending executive amnesty will be cheered by his base, even as it makes swing voters uncomfortable. For example, Reuters’ data — which combines results from the previous five days of polling — shows that on Aug. 7 a record 71 percent of Democrats believed that illegal immigration is a burden. But that number fell 20 points, down to 51 percent by Aug. 11. If that extraordinary drop is valid, then Obama might see increased turnout after he declared a unilateral amnesty.
But he still has to deal with the independents, and 70 percent of independents said in early August that “undocumented immigrants [are] a burden on the US economy,” according to the polls by Reuters and Ipsos.
So did 61 percent of Hispanics and 75 percent of African-Americans and 92 percent of Republicans.
In contrast, only 30 percent of independents say illegals boost the economy. That optimistic attitude is shared by only eight percent of Republicans and 35 percent of Hispanics.
Independents also remain solidly hostile to legal immigration. In August, 61 percent of independent said immigration “is a threat to beliefs and customs,” while 39 percent said legal immigration strengthens society.
But there’s also been a 10-point shift among independents toward Obama since July. In late July, 80 percent of independents said illegals are a burden, and 30 percent said they’re a benefit. Now it is only an unfavorable 70/30 split.
That’s still a hawkish attitude among independents toward legal immigration, and it is consistent with other polls. In 2012, for example 69 percent of independents in a Pew survey agreed that “we should restrict and control people coming to live in our country more than we do now.”
A June 2014 Gallup poll showed that 41 percent of independents want immigration decreased, while 23 percent want immigration increased. Thirty-three percent were OK with the current immigration rate, and likely would not be influenced by disputes over immigration.
No media outlet has conducted a survey to find out how voters will respond to Obama’s planned amnesty.
But independents’ attitudes are a guide to their likely response.
The attitudes of independents are critical because independents usually tip elections toward the winner, even though they’re less likely than partisans to vote in midterm elections.