Finally, Some Agreement on Immigration

Based on exit polls from the presidential primaries, I can report surprising news: The Republicans are united on illegal immigration. No, the party of McCain ...
by | February 12, 2008

Based on exit polls from the presidential primaries, I can report surprising news: The Republicans are united on illegal immigration.

No, the party of McCain and Tancredo isn't about to come together around a single reform proposal.

Rather, what the exit polls show is that Republican primary electorates in very different states are united, in a sense. Republican views on illegal immigration don't vary much from state to state.

Exit pollsters asked two questions related to illegal immigration. One was a choice of three policy options -- "path to citizenship" or " guest worker program" or "deport them." The other asked the voter to identify his or her top issue, with terrorism, Iraq and the economy as the other options besides illegal immigration. You can see the full results below.

Among Republicans, in every state at least a plurality favor the "deport them" option. However, in only a few states does that position win an outright majority.

So, what does that tell me about where the public stands on illegal immigration?

Not much, partially because the exit pollsters only asked Democrats about illegal immigration in two states, Arizona and New Mexico.

Even on the Republican side, the people who are politically interested enough to vote in primaries might think differently than the party more broadly. It's also worth remembering that some of these were open primaries, which would have included independents and even a few Democrats.

Plus, I'm sure if the questions were framed differently (if a path to citizenship were tied to fines or if a strategy of attrition through expanded enforcement replaced deportation), the responses would be different.

Still, it's interesting that the responses of Republicans didn't differ that much between Connecticut and Oklahoma, for example. On other topics, such as abortion, you'd see a much bigger gap.

It's also interesting that in the two states where Democrats were polled, Arizona and New Mexico, their answers were different than those of Republicans anywhere in the country. "Path to citizenship" won a plurality from Democrats in Arizona and an outright majority in New Mexico. In case you're wondering, Latinos were only 18% of the Democratic electorate in Arizona and 35% in New Mexico.

A few other state-specific observations:

* California and Arizona have large populations of illegal immigrants, but that doesn't translate to them having higher "deport them" responses. On the other hand, they are the two states where the most people said that illegal immigration is the most important issue.

* The states where the largest percentages of Republicans favor deportation are Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama and South Carolina. You might not associate those states with illegal immigration, but all of them have become part of the debate recently.

Tennessee passed a major employer sanction bill last year and South Carolina is considering immigration legislation right now. Before he decided not to run again, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt was focusing heavily on illegal immigration in his reelection campaign. These numbers suggest he was on to something, at least in terms of firing up Republican supporters.

* Utah has one of the highest "path to citizenship" percentages of any state. Despite the state's conservative reputation, that response isn't too surprising. In recent years, Utah has offered in-state tuition to illegal immigrants and has allowed them to get special drivers' cards. The latter policy is currently being reconsidered in the legislature.

State (Party)   Path to Citizenship Guest Worker Deport Them Most Important?

Alabama (Rs) 23% 24% 52% 22% Arizona (Ds) 45% 29% 23%       No data Arizona (Rs) 24% 29% 44% 31% Arkansas (Rs) 27% 23% 48% 15% California (Rs) 27% 34% 38% 28% Connecticut (Rs) 32% 32% 35% 18% Florida (Rs) 29% 29% 40% 16% Georgia (Rs) 28% 24% 47% 22% Illinois (Rs) 30% 25% 43% 19% Louisiana (Rs) 27% 27% 44% 24% Massachusetts (Rs) 29% 26% 43% 23% Michigan (Rs) 24% 26% 48% 13% Missouri (Rs) 21% 22% 55% 18% New Hampshire (Rs) 28% 22% 50% 23% New Jersey (Rs) 30% 29% 38% 20% New Mexico (Ds) 55% 30% 12%       No data New York (Rs) 33% 31% 35% 17% Oklahoma (Rs) 31% 28% 41% 22% South Carolina (Rs) 28% 19% 52% 26% Tennessee (Rs) 23% 21% 56% 25% Utah (Rs) 32% 31% 35% 19%

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer  | 

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