A recent Politico story reveals how the 2012 Obama re-election team plans to use immigration as a wedge issue during next year’s presidential campaign. According to the article, the team is using results from a June Gallup poll that shows that the majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11-18 million illegal aliens. But the re-election team is ignoring a major flaw in the poll question.
In recent weeks, illegal immigration has become a decisive issue in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has drawn fire from his competitors over his support for a Texas law that offers in-state tuition to illegal aliens combined with his lack of support for a border fence.
The other GOP candidates, including frontrunner Mitt Romney, have strengthened their positions on illegal immigration to distance themselves from Perry on the issue.
But the Obama re-election team thinks the GOP field is moving away from the majority of Americans, and they couldn’t be more wrong.
Here’s the quote from Pres. Obama’s re-election team as printed in the Politico piece:
The Republican field has become increasingly out of step on immigration. While 64% of Americans believe the U.S. should allow undocumented immigrants to become citizens under certain conditions, the leading Republican candidates oppose a path to citizenship for immigrants [Gallup 6/12/11]. And a majority of Americans have consistently supported the DREAM Act, which the Republican candidates universally oppose at the federal level.
The Gallup poll referenced by the campaign does show that 64% of Americans favor a pathway to citizenship for the 11-18 million illegal aliens living in the United States. But the poll only presented respondents with a choice between mass deportations or a pathway to citizenship. As Roy pointed out during his interview on MSNBC this past weekend, NumbersUSA doesn’t support a policy of mass deportations.
The Obama re-election team should consider a poll conducted by Zogby in late-2009. They asked 42,026 adults (compared to the 1,020 adults surveyed by Gallup) to choose between a policy that included a pathway to citizenship or enforcing existing laws causing illegal aliens to return home over a period of time (attrition through enforcement). Sixty-one percent of Americans chose the attrition through enforcement policy over a pathway to citizenship (26%).
In fact, the most significant piece of immigration legislation currently making its way through Congress – Chairman Smith’s Legal Workforce Act (H.R.2885) – is an attrition through enforcement approach. Gallup’s failure to offer poll respondents attrition through enforcement as an option is like asking them to choose between President Obama and Mickey Mouse in next year’s election. It simply doesn’t present all the different policy options, and instead presents as an alternative option and unlikely solution.
Gallup Poll Reveals More Than What Obama Campaign is Saying
Despite the bad question, the Gallup poll had some good questions that the Obama re-election team might want to consider in creating its immigration strategy.
First, respondents given two distinct policy options and asked which option they prefer the federal government direct its attention -- halting the flow of illegal aliens or dealing with the illegal aliens already living in the U.S. A majority of Americans (51%) chose the enforcement option over dealing with those already here (43%).
While this response may show that Americans are somewhat tolerant of the illegal aliens already living in the U.S., offering them a pathway to citizenship is a secondary priority at best.
Second, respondents were asked about current legal immigration levels, and a plurality of Americans (43%) chose decreasing current legal immigration. Only 18% supported increasing current levels, while 35% supported the status quo.
Pres. Obama has often called for increasing immigration levels, but never has he called for a reduction in legal immigration even with 22 million Americans looking for full-time work.
We’ve had a two-week recess from the GOP presidential debates, but next week begins a stretch of three debates over the next 25 days. The September debates took place in states with high illegal alien populations (California and Florida), allowing illegal immigration to receive significant attention. But now that Pres. Obama’s campaign strategy has been leaked to the press, and the next debate is in a state with few illegal aliens (New Hampshire), we’ll be watching the candidates closely to see if they maintain their strong positions on the issue.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, Oct 6th 2011 @ 11:50am EDT