By L.J. Zigerell August 25
A recent Monkey Cage post by Patrick J. Egan claimed that the Republican Party is hurt by Donald Trump’s immigration policies. But the post presented polling data only on the policy question of what to do with illegal immigrants already in the United States and on the general question of whether immigration (not illegal immigration per se) hurts more than harms the United States.
Majorities of Americans support keeping illegal immigrants who are already here, so a focus on policies such as deportation might hurt the GOP in the general election. But there is no reason to reduce the Trump immigration reform plan or Americans’ immigration policy preferences to the question of illegal immigrants already in the United States.
For example, in a 2014 CBS News Poll 84 percent said that illegal immigration is a very serious or somewhat serious problem, and in a 2014 Gallup Poll 77 percent said that it is important to control the border to halt the flow of illegal immigrants.
Moreover, certain specific policies in the Trump plan receive widespread public support: in a 2013 Gallup Poll 84 percent supported business owners checking worker immigration status and in a 2015 Rasmussen Reports Poll 58 percent supported cutting off federal funds to sanctuary cities. The Trump Plan calls for a tripling of ICE officers, and in a 2010 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll 81 percent supported more federal agents at the southern border.
As for Trump’s proposal for a wall on the Mexico border, some polls suggest an evenly divided public (46-47 percent for a fence, 2011 Pew Research Center Poll; 46-47 percent for a fence, 2013 PRRI Religion & Politics Tracking Poll), or majority support (53-45 percent or 64-32 percent for a fence, depending on the question wording in an 2013 ABC News/Washington Post Poll).
Polling on eliminating birthright citizenship has generated very different results: 39 percent in favor vs. 57 percent opposed (2011 Pew Research Center Poll), 47 percent-49 percent (2010 CBS News Poll), and 58 percent-29 percent (2011 Rasmussen Reports Poll).
Of course, poll results will vary depending on question wording and other factors. And each poll provides only a snapshot that does not completely capture the various immigration policies that voters care about. Therefore, predicting how immigration plays out for Republicans in the general election requires considering how much weight voters attach to immigration itself and each facet of the issue.
Another consideration is how immigration platforms influence partisan support among subgroups. The Hispanic electorate is substantially smaller than the 75 percent of the 2014 electorate that was white, which is important because a strict illegal immigration platform has the potential to draw in white Perot-type voters who sat out the 2012 election.
Egan is correct that Americans have not “suddenly soured on” immigrants. Therefore, the GOP runs the risk of losing support by focusing only on deportation of persons who have already crossed the border. But Americans make a distinction between illegal immigrants and illegal immigration, and polling suggests a potential benefit to Republicans from focusing on policies that more closely align with widespread public support for secure borders.
L.J Zigerell is an assistant professor of politics and government at Illinois State University.