Obstacle Course? Not So Fast!

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Can GOPs fool voters using this one weird trick? Why was there a boomlet for the “non-citizenship” approach to the immigration issue among Republicans? Well, it might have something to do with this blog post, or the polls contained therein. They seem to show that Republican voters respond very favorably when told in detail the various requirements and delays an illegal immigrant might face: “Republican support nearly doubles” from 37% to 72%  when voters are told multiple “obstacles immigrants here illegally would have to navigate.” Meanwhile, according to Micah Cohen of 538.com, it “is less clear that linking citizenship to border control would have the same effect on Republican opinion.”

The upshot seems obvious: If you’re a Republican looking for ways to bamboozle persuade your bubbas conservative constituents not to hate you because you’ve voted for a legalization bill, emphasizing all the hoops and tests and waiting periods illegals would have to slog through is the way to do it. And if a difficult path to citizenship gets 72% support, think how popular a path that doesn’t even end in citizenship will be. Plus, Republicans may hope, many of these non-citizens will never get to vote! Maybe that’s better than harping on border control–and Dems might go for it.

Never mind that a difficult path or a dead-end non-citizenship path is the “worst of both worlds” for GOPs, expanding the pool of Democrats while simultaneously giving that party a ready-made issue (“they don’t want Latinos to be citizens”)  with which to run up the margins among Hispanics.  Never mind that the reason Dems might go for it is that they know they can remove whatever obstacles GOPs place on the path later–those that aren’t fake to begin with. Meanwhile, an insecure border will guarantee Democrats a big pool of beneficiaries of the next amnesty.

Before Republicans go down the path of the obstacle-strewing, though, they might consider this about those polls:

1) The polls make the “path” seem more arduous than it is likely to be. That 35 point boost in support detected by 538.com results from averaging seven polls, with links not provided. But here’s the question Gallup asked:

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.

This makes it seem a bit like applying for college–they have the “opportunity” to become citizens if the pass the “check.” (Pollster J. Ann Selzer: Americans “want to be sure that the right people are staying and the wrong people are not and that we don’t want to let any more of those wrong people in.”) In fact, it’s likely to be a lot less selective–it will be administratively impossible to do more than a cursory “background check” on 7-8 million of applicants, and even if it were possible the legislation allows two free misdemeanors (including DUIs). Maybe this inaccuracy shouldn’t bother GOP Congresspersons–the point of the “obstacles” on the “path” is to use a trick of poll wording to con their constituents, after all, and if leaving an inaccurate impression gets the job done, then the only danger is that the constituents will find out the truth. But consider …

2) The “obstacle” questions that score high often also fudge the legalization-first issue. Look at that Gallup question again. It doesn’t let on that illegals under the Gang of 8 bill would be “provisionally” legalized almost immediately (which they would). It even suggests that nothing will happen until after a “long waiting period,” plus payment of taxes, etc. No wonder it got 86 percent approval even from Republicans. Now look at a Bloomberg question that only got a 25% Republican approval:

Do you support or oppose a revision of the immigration laws that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.?

Makes it seem as if the path is provided immediately, no? So does this question score so low because it fails to specify the multiple obstacles on that path, or because it makes the path/legalization seem instantaneous? How does 538.com decide that it’s the former and not the latter? Maybe GOP congressmen need to embrace delaying legalization, not strewing obstacles.

3) Support for a non-citizenship path is low: It’s only 21 % in the New York Times poll and 22% in this poll. Maybe conservative voters recognize that a society with a big second-class of non-citizens is either undesirable or unsustainable.

4) Support for border control is probably greater than 538.com says. Micah Cohen cites a National Journal/United Technologies poll for the proposition that “only a bare majority of Republican respondents supported linking border security to citizenship.” But the National Journal question on the issue was a joke. Here it is:

Some in Congress say people who came here illegally should not be placed on a path to citizenship until the government meets high standards for securing our borders against further illegal immigration. Others say citizenship opportunities should NOT be linked to border security because unforeseen national security events could cause millions of immigrants’ citizenship status to remain in legal limbo. Which comes closer to your own views? [Emphasis added]

Who’s going to argue for border security in the face of “unforeseen national security events”? Well, 52 percent of Republicans, it turns out. (Only 39 percent opposed.) Another recent poll shows that 60 percent of Hispanic voters favor a “border security first” approach.

Maybe the way to placate GOP constituents isn’t to con them after all . …


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Mickey Kaus