In reversal from previous polls, majority of voters say illegal immigrants are a benefit to the state’s economy
A press call discussing these results and additional results on public education funding and immigration policy is MONDAY, March 25 at 11:00 a.m. PT. Call-in spots are limited. Call-in number: (800) 230-1085.
March 24, 2013 — In a dramatic shift from just a few years ago, Californians across age, race and political affiliation favor an immigration policy that includes a path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants as well as enhanced border security and workplace enforcement, according to results of the largest statewide survey of registered voters.
Overall, 72 percent of voters in the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll favored comprehensive changes to the immigration system including a path to citizenship, and 21 percent opposed the plan. Nearly 3 out of 4 voters also favor a guest worker program.
“Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress should listen to how Californians approach these issues,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics of USC. "Many congressional Republicans are opposed to a path to citizenship. Many congressional Democrats are leery of enhanced border security and a guest-worker program. But California voters understand that each of these elements is essential to a comprehensive immigration reform package."
The results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll show a significant shift in voter sentiment toward illegal immigrants in just a few years. In Nov. 2010, 41 percent of Republican voters and 69 percent of Democratic voters supported the possibility of allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the country permanently if they fulfilled “certain obligations such as paying a fine,” according to polling from USC and the Los Angeles Times. Twenty-six percent of Democratic voters and 51 percent of Republican voters opposed it.
The percentage of California Republicans supporting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants has since grown by nearly 35 percentage points, when voters were asked a similar question with additional conditions. In the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll — conducted March 11-17, 2013 — 76 percent of Republican voters support allowing illegal immigrants with no serious criminal record to "go to the back of the line and work toward citizenship" if they learn English, and pay taxes and a penalty. This path to citizenship was also supported by 88 percent of Democratic voters and 83 percent of voters with “no party preference.” Twenty-two percent of Republican voters, 11 percent of Democratic voters and 16 percent of voters with no party preference opposed a path to citizenship.
Seventy-one percent of Republican voters support a comprehensive immigration reform plan including both enhanced border security and stricter penalties for companies that employ illegal immigrants, as well as a path to citizenship; 23 percent of Republican voters oppose it. Among voters with no party preference, 76 percent support and 14 percent oppose comprehensive changes to immigration policy. Among Democratic voters, 70 percent favor the plan and 22 percent oppose it.
This broad support for national immigration reform cannot solely be attributed to changing voter demographics in California, political analysts say. Support for comprehensive changes to immigration policy are as strong among white voters and older voters as among minority voters and younger voters, according to results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.
“What you’re seeing here is not being driven by generational change,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, which conducted the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll with Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. “This is not just a reflection of Latinos in the state being younger, but actual changes in the ways people are viewing these issues.”
Indeed, Latino voters and White voters favor the plan in equal measure when told about elements of the proposed immigration legislation, including a path to citizenship. Seventy-one percent of each group supports the immigration plan, and 21 percent oppose it. In Nov. 2010, when asked a similar question, Latino voters supported a path to citizenship by a margin of 77-19, while White voters supported it by smaller margins, 51-42.
Both younger and older voters also supported the immigration plan. Seventy-one percent of voters aged 18-49 support the plan, along with 73 percent of voters over 50. Twenty-two percent of younger voters and 19 percent of older voters oppose the immigration plan. In Nov. 2010, when asked a similar question, 60 percent of younger voters favored a path to citizenship, and 34 opposed it; among older voters, 52 percent favored a path to citizenship and 41 percent opposed it, according to polling from USC and the Los Angeles Times.
But specific mention of Obama’s name divided voter support for the proposed immigration policy in the latest poll. Using a split sample, Obama’s affiliation with the plan increased voter support among Latino voters from 71 percent supporting the plan on its own to 79 percent who support the plan when Obama’s name is attached to it.
In contrast, when Republican voters were asked about the immigration plan — noting President Obama’s support for the legislation — the percentage of Republicans in favor took a double-digit drop from 71 percent to 58 percent, with opposition rising from 23 percent to 31 percent.
“You can see why the White House is keeping an arm’s length from the immigration debate going on in Congress,” Schnur said. “Though it helps with some of the President’s strongest supporters, it could lead to enhanced opposition from Republicans. That’s not something they need if they want to get that bill through this year.”
When presented with three options about how to deal with illegal immigrants currently in the United States, 65 percent of voters said illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country and eventually apply for citizenship. Another 10 percent of voters said illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay and work, but should not be allowed to apply for citizenship, and 19 percent said illegal immigrants should be required to leave the U.S.
‘LOS AMIGOS,’ EVEN FOR WHITE VOTERS
Voter sentiment about whether illegal immigrants contribute the state economy has also flipped in the last three years. In sharp contrast to polling done by USC and the Los Angeles Times in 2010, a majority of voters in the state — 53 percent — now say illegal immigrants have had a mostly positive effect on the economy, and 36 percent said illegal immigrants have had a mostly negative effect.
In March 2010, the last time this question was asked, 40 percent of voters said illegal immigrants had a mostly positive effect on the state’s economy and 48 percent said they had a negative effect.
More than 1 in 5 Californians in the latest poll said they know or work with someone who is an undocumented immigrant, and, of those who know an illegal immigrant, 32 percent characterize the person as a “friend” and 13 percent characterize the person as a family member.
“Immigration reform is really about 'los amigos' and ‘la familia,’ for both whites and Latinos,” said David Kanevsky, research director of the Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. “There is a consensus that the current immigration system is broken, which is why voters are willing to make major reforms and not just tinker around the edges. As a result, you’re now seeing voters across the spectrum, including Republicans in California, support an earned path to citizenship for undocumented workers as part of a broader package to fix our immigration system.”
SUPPORT FOR BORDER SECURITY AND GUEST WORKER PROGRAMS
Just four percent of voters said immigration policy in the United States should stay as it is, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) said the system needs either major changes or a “complete overhaul.” Another 24 percent said the system is working well but needs some slight changes.
As for the form these changes should take, California voters seem to support an all-of-the-above approach, with large majorities favoring every specific element of the proposed immigration plan when asked about each part separately.
A guest worker program allowing immigrants to do low-skilled jobs that Americans are unable or unwilling to do is supported by 73 percent of voters and opposed by 24 percent. In Nov. 10, a similar proposal for a temporary worker program that does not grant legal citizenship, was supported by 70 percent of California voters and opposed by 25 percent, according to polling from USC and the Los Angeles Times.
In the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, 76 percent of voters surveyed support increasing border patrols and infrastructure to focus on the most serious security threats, and 20 percent opposed the policy.
Voters also support requiring employers to verify the legal status of their employees and fining employers who do not comply: 74 percent support this measure, and 21 percent oppose it. Seventy-eight percent of voters support making it easier for those who have advanced science degrees to legally immigrate to the United States by increasing the number of visas, and 17 percent oppose it.
As for a path the citizenship for certain illegal immigrants, 83 percent of voters support allowing illegal immigrants with no criminal record to go to the back of the immigration line and work towards citizenship over time if they learn English and pay taxes and a penalty. Fifteen percent opposed a path to citizenship.
Overall, 58 percent of California voters agree with the statement that the immigration plan as a whole provides a “common-sense solution to our broken immigration system” and makes the “whole system more accountable and fair. Thirty-one percent agree with a competing statement, that the plan “is amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants” and that we should first “secure our borders and take care of those who have played by the rules.”
The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted from March 11-17, 2013, by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. The full sample of 1,501 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.
Additional poll results and methodology are available here.
FOR MEDIA: A press call discussing these results and additional poll results on immigration policy and public education funding is MONDAY, March 25 at 11:00 a.m. PT with Dan Schnur of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and representatives of polling firms Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and American Viewpoint.
Call-in spots are limited. To reserve a spot for the phone conference, RSVP to Suzanne Wu at firstname.lastname@example.org or (213) 740-0252.
United States: (800) 230-1085
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About the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll: The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is a series of statewide public opinion polls in California, designed to survey voter attitudes on a wide range of political, policy, social and cultural issues.
Conducted at regular intervals throughout the year, the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is one of the largest polls of registered voters in the state and has been widely cited, helping to inform the public and to encourage discourse on key political and policy issues.
About USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences: USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences is the heart of the university. The largest, oldest and most diverse of USC's 19 schools, USC Dornsife is composed of more than 30 academic departments and dozens of research centers and institutes. USC Dornsife is home to approximately 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students and more than 750 faculty members with expertise across the humanities, social sciences and sciences.
About the Los Angeles Times: The Los Angeles Times is the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the country, with a daily readership of 2 million and 3 million on Sunday, and a combined print and interactive local weekly audience of 4.5 million. The fast-growing latimes.com draws over 10 million unique visitors monthly.