By Julia Preston on June 10, 2014
While 62 percent of Americans favor a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States illegally, Republican voters are sharply split on the issue going into the November elections, according to a nationwide poll published Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, nonpartisan research groups in Washington.
As House lawmakers returned to Washington on Monday after a week’s break, pressure mounted from business, religious and immigrant advocacy groups on House Republicans and on President Obama to take action on immigration before the elections. The survey reveals political shoals House Republican leaders have to navigate as they decide whether to hold votes on legislation this year or put off the contentious issue at least until after November.
The poll is based on interviews with a random sample of 1,538 Americans who took the same survey last year. Support has remained “remarkably steady,” the survey found, for a path to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country “if they meet certain requirements,” declining one percentage point from 63 percent a year ago.
The poll found that 17 percent of Americans favor legal permanent-resident status, but not citizenship, for those immigrants, while 19 percent favor identifying and deporting them. Those figures have also changed little from last year.
Among Republicans, 51 percent support a path to citizenship. But among Americans who identify with the Tea Party, only 37 percent favor offering citizenship, while the same percentage favor deporting those immigrants, the highest share of all partisan groups. Yet 23 percent of Tea Party followers would allow the immigrants to become legal residents but not citizens.
While most Americans are showing little interest in the midterm elections, Tea Party voters are intensely engaged, the survey found, with 86 percent saying they were certain to vote in November.
Among white evangelical Protestants, who tend to be conservative, support for a pathway to citizenship dropped by eight percentage points since 2013 to 48 percent from 56 percent. But those Christians shifted to favor the option of giving legal permanent resident status to immigrants here illegally, rather than citizenship; there was no increase in their support for deportation. Those views are consistent with the approach of House Republican leaders, who presented a blueprint in January that called for legal status but no direct pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
While highlighting differences among conservatives, the survey also pointed to trouble looming for Republicans if Congress does not advance immigration legislation before the presidential vote in 2016. In the poll, 53 percent of registered voters said they would be less willing to vote for a candidate who opposed legislation with a pathway to citizenship. Only 16 percent of voters said they would be more likely to support a candidate opposing a citizenship path. Even among Republicans, 46 percent said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate opposing such a bill.
“The big takeaway is the clarity and consistency of support from the general public for a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute. “There is clearly a cost for politicians directly opposing immigration reform. That is not a long-term strategy for success for candidates on either side.”
Underlying support for an overhaul is a “pronounced shift” in Americans’ view of the impact of immigrants on the country, the survey found.
Today, six in 10 Americans say immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents,” according to the results, while roughly three in 10 say immigrants are a burden “because they take jobs, housing and health care.” In a survey in 2010 with the same questions but different participants, Americans were almost evenly divided, with 45 percent saying immigrants helped the country and 43 percent calling them a burden.
The survey was prepared by Mr. Jones, Daniel Cox and Juhem Navarro-Rivera from the Public Religion Research Institute, and E. J. Dionne Jr. and William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution. It is based on telephone interviews in English and Spanish between April 7 and April 27, and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points for the general sample.
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