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Polling and Focus Group Analysis Shows Cost of Opposing Immigration Reform in the 2016 Election

New York, NY —The New American Economy and Burning Glass Consulting today released new polling and focus group results analyzing the impact of candidate positions in support of or opposition to immigration reform in both the 2016 presidential primary and general elections. The poll and focus groups show that the benefits for candidates in opposing immigration reform in a Republican primary are small, while the costs of doing so in the general election are extremely large. The survey, which included GOP likely caucus goers in Iowa, likely GOP primary voters in both New Hampshire and South Carolina, and likely general election voters in ten swing states, shows that the benefits of hardline immigration stances in the primary are small, while candidates who take positions that cast them as anti-immigration will start the general election at a 24-point disadvantage among likely voters and an even greater disadvantage among key electoral groups, such as college-educated white women and young voters—those most likely to determine who will be the next president.

Key findings from the research include:

  • The benefits of running against immigration reform are small:
    • Only about 1 in 5 GOP primary voters is an anti-immigration voter. Only 17 percent of GOP caucus voters in Iowa, 18 percent of GOP primary voters in South Carolina, and 20 percent of GOP primary voters in New Hampshire favor deportation of undocumented immigrants and could not vote for a presidential candidate who disagreed with them on immigration. In the Iowa focus group, not one of the conservative likely caucus goers found support for immigration reform to be a deal breaker.
  • The costs of being perceived as anti-immigration in a general election are extremely large:
    • A candidate who is seen as anti-immigration will face a general electorate where they will turn off 24 percent more voters than they will attract: More than half of general election voters (53 percent) would be less likely to vote for a candidate they viewed as anti-immigration, while just over one quarter (29 percent) would be more likely to vote for that candidate. For core immigration voters — those who could not support a candidate in the general election who disagreed with them on immigration — immigration reform supporters outnumber deportation supporters by a more than 2 to 1 margin.
      • The costs are even greater among key electoral groups that are most likely to determine who will be the next president: For voters under 35 years old, a candidate who opposes reform will face a general electorate where a net 44 percent of voters are less likely to vote for him or her. For white, college-educated women, a net 38 percent would be less likely to vote for that candidate.
  • Conversely, the benefits of supporting immigration reform in a general election are large: A candidate who supports immigration reform would start with a net 37 percent advantage among swing state votes.
    • Support for immigration reform is a winning issue in the general election: General election voters in swing states overwhelmingly support immigration reform that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants. Seventy-two percent of general election voters think undocumented immigrants should be allowed to get legal status or citizenship, compared with just 22 percent who think they should be sent home.
      • This holds true across party lines. Sixty-eight percent of voters who have supported a Republican candidate for president or Congress in recent elections support a path to legal status or citizenship.
    • Swing state voters would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports legal status for undocumented immigrants: Fifty-seven percent of general election voters would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports legal status for undocumented immigrants, compared to just 20 percent who would be less likely to vote for that candidate, for a net advantage of 37 percent among swing state voters.
    • The swing state voters most at play are the groups most likely to support immigration reform: Eighty-five percent of swing state voters under the age of 35 support immigration reform, as do 77 percent of college-educated white women, two groups seen as key to determining the next president. Conversely, the demographic group that was most likely to support deportation of undocumented immigrants — non-college-educated men — is a group seen as largely not in play in this election.
  • The costs of supporting immigration reform in a GOP primary are small:
    • The vast majority of GOP primary voters who do vote on immigration actually support comprehensive immigration reform proposals: Even for the portion of voters who ranked immigration as a deal-breaker issue, overwhelming majorities support the comprehensive, multi-step approach to reform that parallels the standards outlined by House Speaker John Boehner in 2014.
    • Roughly twice as many GOP primary voters would grant citizenship or legal status to undocumented immigrants as would deport them: Approximately 3 in 5 GOP primary voters would give citizenship or legal status to undocumented immigrants, while just 1 in 3 would deport them.
    • Among GOP early state primary voters generally, more than 4 in 5 would support a GOP candidate who offered a multi-step reform approach that gave legal status to undocumented immigrants.
  • Flip-flopping on immigration turns off voters:
    • Fifty-three percent of general election voters would be less likely to support someone who previously supported immigration reform but now opposes it, compared to just one quarter who would be more likely to support that candidate.

The Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina polls were conducted by Burning Glass Consulting between April 9, 2015 and April 15, 2015, and the surveyed sample sizes were 400 in each state. The margins of error were +/- 5 percent in each state. The swing state polls (in CO, FL, IA, MI, NV, NH, NC, OH, VA, WI) were conducted by Burning Glass Consulting between May 6, 2015 and May 11, 2015, and the surveyed sample size was 804. The margins of error were +/- 3.5 percent. The total percentages for responses may not equal 100 percent due to rounding.

See the full results here.

 

CONTACTS

Sarah Doolin
Partnership for a New American Economy
sarah@renewoureconomy.org

Ryan Williams
Partnership for a New American Economy
rwilliams@fp1strategies.com

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…