Politics

Polls Show Swing Voters Likely Would Hate Obama’s Amnesty

Neil Munro White House Correspondent

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.

Reuters also asked about independents about the wave of Central American migrants, by asking, “What should the US deal with the unaccompanied illegal immigrant children detained near the south US border?”

Independents’ opinions remains solidly negative throughout July and August. Thirty-nine percent said the children should be repatriated and 10 percent said they should be allowed to stay.

That’s a four-to-one ratio against Obama’s policy of welcoming the migrants.

In the poll, Reuters’ other independent respondents punted. Sixteen percent declined to pick an option, and 34 percent said “the children should be sheltered and cared for until it has been deemed safe for them to return to their home countries.”

That equivocation was illustrated by a 42-year-old Alabama resident, Lance Lee, who was interviewed in the Reuters survey. Lee said the children should be helped, and also that the border should be toughened so no more children get across. “Overall, people are humane and they understand that no matter what our situation is with the budget, whether or not we can afford this, these are kids,” Lee said. “No matter what the immigration system is, they are innocent.”

Equivocators are less likely to let the issue decide their vote.

Media coverage of the border meltdown has been skewed.

In contrast to the media’s description of the migrants as “children,” many are working-age male youths migrating in search of jobs.

Also, officials and reporters describe the migrants youths as “unaccompanied alien children.” But they are actually accompanied by “coyotes” — human escorts — who are hired by parents often living illegally in the United States. The coyotes are hired to deliver the Central American children safely through Mexico into the hands of U.S. border agencies, who then deliver the children to their parents throughout the United States.

Also, half of the total Central American inflow — roughly 200,000 people — since last October consists of family units, complete with adults, youths and young children.

Most Americans know little about immigration, or even the immigration rate, partly because few news outlets include the numbers in articles about immigration.

A May 2013 poll by Rasmussen revealed that only 10 percent of Americans know the current inflow of legal immigrants is one million per year. Thirty-percent percent of respondents believe immigration is less than one million per year, and seven percent believe it is more than 2.5 million per year.

Fifty-one percent of the 1,000 respondents in the Rasmussen poll said they don’t know how many people come into the country. But during a crisis, the public tends to learn more information — and may become more hawkish.

That process appears to be underway. Obama’s poll ratings on immigration have dropped sharply since last year. He now has strong support from only 18 percent of the population, and strong opposition from 57 percent of the population, according to an Associated Press poll released Aug. 1.

Follow Neil on Twitter