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Californians narrowly approve of new law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants

Results represent a major shift over the last decade; voters still wary of undocumented immigrants arrested for minor crimes or practicing law

Contact: Suzanne Wu at suzanne.wu@usc.edu or (213) 740-0252; Merrill Balassone at balasson@usc.edu or (213) 740-6156; or Michelle Salzman Boston at msboston@dornsife.usc.edu or (213) 821-9311 

November 8, 2013 — By a slim margin, Californians approve of the new state law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, according to the latest results of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Forty-nine percent of Californians said undocumented immigrants should be allowed to obtain special driver’s licenses, as compared to 47 percent who oppose. Among Latino voters, 69 percent were in favor with 28 percent opposed. Forty-four percent of white voters were in favor with 53 percent opposed.

California became the 10th state to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses after Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 60 into law last month.

When asked about the issue in 2003 after then-Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, 63 percent of likely voters said they disapproved. The law was later repealed after Davis was recalled.

"Gray Davis was removed from office at least in part because he signed a bill granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “The shift in public opinion over 10 years has been remarkable."

Californians also feel strongly about protecting undocumented immigrants from retaliation by employers, the poll showed.

A majority of Californians said they were in favor of prohibiting employers from threatening to report the immigration status of employees who report workplace abuses unsafe working conditions and wage theft – legislation signed into law last month by Brown. Fifty-four percent of voters were in favor of this legislation recently signed into law by Brown, and 35 percent oppose it. Latino voters favor the law 58-36 and white voters 53-35.

When asked about a new law requiring that domestic workers get paid overtime if they work more than nine hours per day or 45 hours per week, 78 percent of Californians were in favor with 16 percent opposed.

"People view this more as a human argument than a politically-based or immigration policy argument, and that’s why you see such high, intense support for the measure," said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, which conducted the poll with Republican polling firm American Viewpoint on behalf of USC and the Los Angeles Times.

But Californians had mixed feelings when asked about other immigration measures.

A plurality of Californians, 48 percent, oppose the so-called Trust Act, recently signed into law, which restricts county jail officials from detaining immigrants without serious criminal records on behalf of federal immigration authorities. Forty-six percent said they are in favor of the law. Latinos voters favored the Trust Act 54-to-41 while white voters were split 44-49.

“Californians are extremely welcoming and supportive of undocumented immigrants and their families, but they still have concerns about individuals – documented or not – who committed crimes,” Schnur said.

Californians were largely opposed to undocumented immigrants working in polling stations or practicing law.

Just 38 percent of voters said undocumented immigrants should be allowed to practice law once they pass the state bar exam, with 57 percent opposed. Latino voters were in favor, 65-30, and white voters were largely opposed, 26-68.

Thirty-five percent of voters said undocumented immigrants should be able to serve on juries, and 60 percent disagreed. Latino voters were in favor by a slim margin, 49-44, with white voters opposed, 31-65.

“Californians really don’t really want to be punitive toward illegal immigrants, but voters were very much against having illegal immigrants as part of the legal process, such as practicing law,” said David Kanevsky, research director for American Viewpoint.

Schnur said: "Even while the immigration debate in Washington, D.C. has become completely gridlocked, it’s worth noting how far California has moved beyond that basic question of citizenship to more specific matters.”

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted from Oct. 30 – Nov. 5, 2013, by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. The full sample of 1,503 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points.

Additional poll results and methodology are available here.

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TWITTER: @usclatpoll

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.