Democrats and advocates for more immigration are cheering President Barack Obama’s plan to unilaterally grant work permits to many illegal immigrants, even though numerous polls show overwhelming public hostility to plans that favor illegals over Americans.
“If the president takes his action on the amnesty, he will make it easier for the Republicans to win in 2016,” said Kellyanne Conway, who recently polled 2014 voters about their attitudes toward immigration. “The angriest person should be Hillary Clinton,” Conway added.
“I think the numbers in this are well in the 60s [percent] against him. … This could break the back of the Democratic Party,” said Pat Caddell, a former pollster for President Jimmy Carter who is sharply critical of both parties’ support for high levels of immigration.
“This is a really, really bad move,” said Whit Ayres, founder of North Star Opinion Research, which polls for GOP candidates. In June 2013, Ayres polled the public about immigration for Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of Facebook. Asked by TheDC if there’s any polling evidence that an Oval Office amnesty would not backfire on Obama, Ayres responded “not that I’ve seen.”
The risk to Obama and the Democrats is made worse given that Obama just lost an election. “It’s going to come across as an illegitimate and crassly political move by a desperate president,” Ayres told MNSBC.
Obama and his aides tried to spin the November defeat as a public demand for more cooperation in D.C. But “an executive order on immigration would let Republicans blame continued gridlock on Obama’s provocation. … The political timing is exquisitely terrible,” Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus wrote Nov. 7.
The impact on working Americans is also a sensitive issue. Recent polls shows that Americans lopsidedly want new jobs to go to their fellow Americans, not foreign workers. “Eighty percent of Americans straight up said that any newly created jobs should go to American workers,” Conway said. “It is a matter of fairness to them.”
Obama is expected to provide residency documents and work permits to at least four million illegals.
That’s a huge number, and is equal to the number of Americans who will turn 18 this year. If implemented, Obama’s permit program would create almost one new legal foreign worker for every two Americans now looking for work, and one foreign worker for every two jobs added since 2009.
In response, GOP legislators are pushing spending curbs that would block Obama’s production of work permits.
The unpopularity of Obama’s planned action was inadvertently highlighted by a letter to Obama from advocates for more immigration. The letter, leaked to the Washington Post Nov. 12, urges Obama to provide the work permits to illegals, but doesn’t even mention the issue of public support.
Some advocates for the Oval Office rollback of immigration enforcement say the public is on their side, and sometimes point to data from the national midterm exit polls, taken Nov. 4.
“Overall, 57 percent of voters favored granting illegal immigrants ‘a chance to apply for legal status,’ while 39 percent preferred deporting them,” said E.J. Dionne, a Washington Post columnist who backs Obama. “Better for Obama to pick a fight in which he is taking action than to give way to passivity and powerlessness.”
“Public support for a path to legal status and citizenship remains durable and resilient. … Voters want action instead of excuses, even if it comes in the form of executive action,” said Frank Sharry, head of America’s Voice, a group that advocates for increased immigration.
“The views of the electorate couldn’t be more clear and — ahem — unequivocal: Americans want to legalize our nation’s undocumented population despite Sen. [Jeff] Sessions’ attempts to rewrite reality,” said Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos blog.
“Our country cannot continue to wait while House Republican leadership turns its back on the best opportunity our country has had in decades to achieve a lasting solution, as well as the American public that supports it. … It is time to take executive action,” said an online petition by the Latino advocacy group La Raza.
But the exit poll and most other polls are completely misleading, said Caddell and Conway.
Long-standing — but weak — public support for the ideal of immigration crashed this summer, when a wave of 130,000 migrants from Central America crossed into Texas, Caddell said.
“We’ve had a sea change in attitudes on immigration that is stunning in the last three or four months,” he said.
The wave “became the reality of ‘Let’s be nice to everyone,'” which has been the public’s traditional attitude toward immigrants, he said. But the wave ensured that Americans “talked to each other and said ‘Oh my God, this is insane,'” Caddell said.
After the wave of migrants, Americans aren’t focused on what’s fair to immigrants, said Conway. “Now people are asking ‘What’s fair to the rest of us? What’s fair to the high school or college student who is looking for a job? What is fair to the guy who can’t find employment? What’s fair to the business owners?” she said. Many business owners are disadvantaged when their rivals hire low-wage illegals.
The shift has been missed by most pollsters because they won’t push past respondents’ polite comments about immigrants to discover their real strongly held attitudes, Conway and Caddell said.
But those attitudes — which can be summarized as, ‘We mostly like immigration, but we really, really want fewer immigrants,’ said Conway — emerged in the voting booth.
In the November election, four — likely five — Democratic senators who voted for the Senate’s 2013 amnesty bill lost their seats, while their challengers won by unexpected margins, despite fierce Democratic criticism.
The public’s changed attitudes are highlighted by numerous polls where respondents can indirectly reveal their attitudes about immigrants. Those polls shows many Americans hold weak views on the issue, and that strongly held opposition is a plurality or a majority, while strong support hovers around 22 percent.
An Aug. 7 poll by Ipsos for Reuters showed that 63 percent of Americans said legal immigrants place a burden on society, and 76 percent said undocumented immigrants place a burden on society. Only 27 percent of Americans described themselves as coming “from an immigrant family.”
A late August poll by TIPP showed that “80% of those age 18 to 24 want [Obama] to work with Congress on reform, and just 15% side with Obama’s plan to bypass Congress if they fail to act.”
Unilateral action is endorsed by only 22 percent of all respondents, and only 39 percent of blacks, 39 percent of Democrats, 26 percent of Hispanics, 18 percent of single women and 18 percent of high-school grads, said TIPP, which is the polling unit of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, and which was working for Investors Business Daily.
An election day poll of 806 voters by the Federation for American Immigration Reform showed that 47 percent strongly support budget curbs to prevent Obama’s planned Oval Office amnesty. Twenty-six percent of the voters — far less than the Democrats’ share of the vote — strongly opposed the budget curbs, said the poll. FAIR advocates for a reduction in the annual inflow of one million immigrants and 700,000 guest workers.
The shift in opinion is especially strong whenever respondents are invited to talk about immigration, jobs and wages. That’s likely to be the focus of the debate because Obama’s announcement is expected to award work permits to the illegals, nearly all of whom have been shielded by Obama’s rollback of immigration enforcement since 2009.
A mid-August poll by Conway showed that Americans strongly opposed immigration rules that disadvantage American workers. Seventy-five percent “want more enforcement of current immigration laws, including 63% of Hispanics and over 50% of Democrats … 77% believe U.S. born workers and legal immigrants already in the country should be given preference for jobs over new legal immigrants [and] 89% agree over illegal immigrants.”
A late September poll by Paragon Insights for the Senate GOP’s election committee shows public’s rising demand for immigration rules that favor Americans, not foreigners or illegal immigrants. Thirty percent of Hispanics said they would be “much more likely” to support a GOP Senate candidate who said that “the first goal of immigration policy needs to be getting unemployed Americans back to work — not importing more low-wage workers to replace them.” So did 49 percent of people who earn less than $50,000 a year, 39 percent of Democratic women, 51 percent of unmarried women and 35 percent of Obama voters, said the poll.
The poll also showed that roughly another 20 percent of people said they would be “somewhat” more likely to vote for the GOP candidate.
To make their case, Obama’s supporters cherry pick favorable numbers from polls. For example, Sharry said that a September Washington Post/ABC poll found “50-46% support for giving undocumented immigrants ‘the right to live and work here legally.'”
But a closer look at the same Washington Post/ABC poll shows that 42 percent of registered voters strongly oppose work-permits for illegals, while only 26 percent strongly support the award of work-permits. The September New York Times/CBS poll cited by Sharry also shows a 35-point shift against Obama since February 2013, leaving him with 30 percent support and 60 percent opposition on immigration.
Sharry did not respond to emails from TheDC.
But the GOP’s legislators are increasingly highlighting the impact of Obama’s immigration policies on American workers, despite their donors’ demands for amnesty, cheap workers and more consumers.
That middle-class approach helped win Senate seats for Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas and David Perdue in Georgia, and it also helped Sen. Pat Roberts keep his seat.
Some House GOP members have signed a letter asking for budget curbs, and at least six GOP Senators have announced they will push for budget curbs to block the distribution of work permits.
“Obama’s immigration orders will have a crushing impact on the jobs, wages, schools, hospitals, police departments, and communities of our constituents,” Sen. Jeff Sessions wrote Nov. 11, in an article aimed at his fellow GOP legislators. “Who will protect them, if not us?”