Why are so many Republican politicians getting on board with immigration reform lately? If a new study by the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings Institute is any indication, it’s because their constituents are getting their back.
The poll talked to an unusually large number of people — 4,500 — in order to provide reliable statistics on individual demographics. What it found was majority support for reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country, even in traditionally conservative communities.
According to the poll 53 percent of Republicans favor a path to citizenship versus 71 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents. Only a small minority is interested in granting undocumented immigrants legal status without eventual citizenship as a compromise — 13 percent of Democrats and Republicans alike and 14 percent of independents. This low number might help explain why Jeb Bush’s proposal to bar illegal immigrants from obtaining citizenship attracted so little support earlier this month. Still, 32 percent of Republicans favor mass deportation to address immigration instead.
“There is a consensus for action on immigration, and it crosses partisan lines,” the report’s authors write.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the survey is its findings among religious Americans. Catholic and Mormon leaders are backing reform along with a broad coalition of leading evangelical organizations who are promoting immigration reform on Scriptural grounds, citing Biblical passages regarding the treatment of strangers. But it’s always been unclear how much pastors’ views on immigration align with their often conservative and white congregants.
According to the poll, those worshipers are getting on board with immigration reform, too. Per Brookings’ executive summary of their findings:
Majorities of all religious groups, including Hispanic Catholics (74 percent), Hispanic Protestants (71 percent), black Protestants (70 percent), Jewish Americans (67 percent), Mormons (63 percent), white Catholics (62 percent), white mainline Protestants (61 percent), and white evangelical Protestants (56 percent), agree that the immigration system should allow immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements.
Like their leaders in Washington, many conservatives appear to be going through some political soul searching about whether Republicans can survive without attracting more Latino voters. According to PRRI and Brookings, some 39 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of self-identified tea partiers think the GOP position on immigration hurt them in recent elections. Tea party Republicans are more skeptical of immigration reform, but a 45 percent plurality support a path to citizenship versus 16 percent who favor only granting legal status to undocumented immigrants and 36 percent who favor deportation.
White working class Americans, who are generally considered the target audience for populist anti-immigration appeals, are the least happy with the current system — 71 percent think undocumented workers drive down wages. But their dissatisfaction with illegal immigration seems to be channeled toward support for a policy fix. According to the study, some 52 percent of white working class respondents said they favor the DREAM Act and 58 percent favor immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country.
In addition, one of the most popular talking points on the anti-immigration right — that Congress should focus on border security first before addressing other policy changes — doesn’t seem to resonate much. Fifty-six percent of white working class said they preferred a comprehensive bill that both legalizes the undocumented population and strengthens border security rather than one that only tackles border issues.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.