Opinion

Exit Polls: GOP Primary Voters Say They Support ‘Amnesty’

Bad news for Ann Coulter: South Carolina and New Hampshire exit polls suggest most Republican voters don’t agree with her on immigration.

The conservative provocateur has become the leader of what you might term the immigration absolutist wing of the conservative movement. All issues to this group are peripheral to immigration. If America doesn’t secure its border, deport every single illegal immigrant from the country and even curb legal immigration, it is doomed, their argument goes. This is why Coulter tweeted last year after Donald Trump issued his tough immigration policy paper that she couldn’t care if Trump performs abortions in the White House so long as he follows through on his immigration platform.

Coulter and her crew want you to believe that immigration is the overriding issue in Trump’s rise. After all, the billionaire Republican frontrunner has been pretty Coulter-esque on the issue, pledging to deport all illegal immigrants – very “humanely,” of course, with a “deportation force” – and declaring when he entered the race that illegal immigrants flowing into the U.S. were basically rapists and drug dealers.

But even in conservative South Carolina, exit polls from Saturday’s primary revealed that immigration was hardly the most important issue among Republican voters. Perhaps more devastating to the immigration absolutist thesis of Trump’s rise, most voters indicated they would support what Coulter and her friends would call an “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

Only 10 percent of voters Saturday indicated that immigration was the most important issue to them, according to data complied by CNN, ranking behind terrorism (32 percent), the economy (28 percent) and government spending (27 percent). Fifty three percent of voters said they support a path to legalization for illegal immigrants working in the country, while 43 percent said illegal immigrants should be deported.

Exit polls from last week’s New Hampshire primary were pretty similar, with just 15 percent of Republican primary voters saying that immigration was the most important issue and 56 percent saying they support a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants working in the country.

These findings shouldn’t be surprising. As I pointed out back in May, though Republican presidential contenders were bending over backwards to disown their previous support for a pathway to citizenship or legalization, there has always been plenty of evidence to suggest that most Republican voters aren’t itching to kick every last illegal immigrant out of the country. (SEE: The Anti-Immigration Fixation: Is It Really Necessary For 2016 Contenders?)

This is not to say immigration is completely unimportant to GOP voters. It is obviously a real concern. Republican voters are especially uneasy about bringing Syrian refugees into the country for fear, among other things, that ISIS might embed terrorists among them. Most Republicans also very reasonably support building a wall along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent the illegal immigrant population from growing. But the evidence that most Republican voters want to deport all the illegal immigrants in the country, even those who have been in the country for decades and have been good “citizens,” is hardly overwhelming.

Of course, because of Trump’s posturing on the issue, he happens to get the lion’s share of Republican voters who believe immigration is the overriding issue this election. But his rise is due to so much more than immigration. If that’s all that explained it, or even if that’s mainly what explained it, Trump would be a much more marginal figure in the Republican primary instead of the frontrunner.

Follow Jamie on Twitter