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Republican National Committee

MEMORANDUM
TO: Republican National Committee Members
FROM: Matthew Dowd, RNC Senior Advisor
RE: Public Opinion On Immigration Reform
DATE: May 26, 2006

Given the ongoing public and legislative debate on immigration reform, I wanted to provide you with an overview and
analysis of public opinion research on this important issue. A review and evaluation of both public and private polls
reveals the following:

1. Americans believe illegal immigration is a serious problem that the government has failed to address in the
past. Doing nothing on this issue is not a solution, as Americans want it fixed today.
2. The public wants a comprehensive solution that includes reform on three fronts: (i) strengthening border
security/law enforcement to stem the flow of illegal immigration, (ii) enhancing the avenues through which
immigrants can lawfully and safely enter the U.S. for work and (iii) creating a compassionate, practical and
equitable way for those illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to legally enter the system.
3. On the other hand, proposals such as criminalizing illegal immigrants, have significantly less support among
the American people.
4. The comprehensive approach that emphasizes both security and compassion is unifying, not polarizing – it
is supported by Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. Furthermore, majorities of Hispanics back it.
Therefore, it is imperative for the Republican Party to talk about immigration effectively and comprehensively
and demonstrate leadership on this vital issue as we move toward the mid-term elections.

I. PUBLIC POLLING SUMMARY

Public polls show that Americans want the government to solve the immigration problem. The public strongly supports a
comprehensive approach. For instance:

Expanding the Border Patrol. Eighty percent (80%) in the FOX News poll (4/4-4/5) support increasing the number of
officers policing the border, and Gallup (4/6-4/7) shows 81% believe increasing the number of Border Patrol agents will
be an effective way to reduce illegal immigration.

Creating a temporary worker program. More than two-thirds of voters – and equally large numbers of Republicans –
support creating a temporary worker program. FOX News (5/16-5/18) found 63% of all voters support a temporary
worker program and 63% of Republicans supporting it too. Similarly, CBS (5/16-5/17) found 61% of Americans and
62% of Republicans support a temporary worker program.

Strong Support For Temporary Worker Program From GOP Voters


Overall Support GOP Support

63 63 61 62

FOX News (5/16-5/18) CBS News (5/16-5/17)


Providing a way for illegal immigrants already here to obtain legal status. Proposals to allow illegal immigrants
who have been in the country for at least five years and meet other requirements (pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn
English, and go to the back of the line) to apply for legal status garner wide support. Close to 80% support such a
proposal in the CNN poll (5/16-5/17) and 77% in the CBS News poll (5/16-5/17), including 76% of Republicans. And
according to the NBC News/WSJ poll (4/21-4/24), more than two-thirds (68%) support the Hagel-Martinez approach that
passed the Senate.

Sending the National Guard to help Border Patrol agents secure the border. Voters strongly support the
President’s plan to deploy National Guard troops to the Mexican border. 74% support the plan in the ABC
News/Washington Post poll (5/12-5/14), 64% support it in the CNN poll (5/16-5/17), and 62% support it in the CBS
News poll. Moreover, the CBS poll shows 68% believe National Guard troops will be effective in reducing illegal
immigration.

II. RNC POLLING SUMMARY

Examining RNC internal polling sheds even more light on the immigration debate. Our most recent poll (5/21-5/23) by
Voter/Consumer Research finds:

Overwhelming support exists for a temporary worker program. 80% of all voters, 83% of Republicans, and 79% of
self-identified conservatives support a temporary worker program as long as immigrants pay taxes and obey the law.

When voters are given the choice of other immigration proposals, strengthening enforcement with a tamper-proof
identity card (89% among all voters, 93% among GOP), various wordings of a temporary worker program (the highest at
85% among all voters, 86% among GOP), and sending National Guard troops to the border (63% among all voters,
84% among GOP) score the highest among both all voters and Republican voters.

Immigration Proposals, Ranked By Overall Support


Overall Support GOP Support

Tamper-proof identity card foreign 93


workers 89

Temporary worker program / register, 86


pay taxes, and return home 85

Temporary worker program/ Some 87


reform is better than current situation 82

Temporary worker program / Reduce 77


pressure on the border 76

84
Sending National Guard troops
63

63
Building more detainment facilities
49

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Voters don’t consider granting legal status to those already here amnesty. Seventy percent (70%) of voters say
illegal immigrants who have put down roots in the U.S. should be granted legal status after they go to the back of the
line, pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English, and have a clean criminal record; just 25% say that would be amnesty
and we should instead impose criminal penalties on illegal immigrants in the U.S. Republican and conservative opinion
is only slightly lower—68% of conservatives and 64% of Republicans support granting legal status over criminal
penalties.

Voters want comprehensive reform, including a temporary worker program and legal status, not inaction.
When voters are given the choice between a comprehensive reform plan of getting tough on border security and a
temporary worker program or no reform at all (below), 71% choose comprehensive reform and 19% choose no reform.
Support for comprehensive reform is even higher among GOP base voters—80% of conservatives and 72% of church-
going Protestants want comprehensive reform over no reform.

• “Getting tough on the border by building more fences, motion sensors, and cameras, and creating a temporary
worker program where people can apply to work in this country for a limited period if they pay taxes and obey
the law.”
/OR/
• “Not reforming our immigration system or strengthening border security if it means letting more immigrants into
the U.S. through a temporary worker program and failing to punish immigrants here now who came into the
country illegally.”

Conservative Subgroup Support For Temporary Worker Over Inaction


Temp. Worker No Action
80 80
72 71

19 19
13 12

Republican Conservative Active Overall


Protestants

Republican candidates succeed when they support taking action on immigration. Our poll tested a number of
messages, and found candidates who talk about comprehensive reform are more successful than those who focus only
on border security. For example, a candidate using comprehensive reform language wins 71%—including 52% of
Republicans—when matched against a seal-the-border candidate.

• Candidate A “who only supports sealing off the border, stopping illegal immigrants from entering the country,
and imposing criminal penalties on immigrants already here”
25% are more likely to support Candidate A
/OR/
• Candidate B “who supports comprehensive immigration reform that would beef up border security, enforce
laws against companies that hire illegals and creates a temporary worker program that would allow immigrants
to work here for a set period of time so long as they register, pay taxes, obey the law, and return home when
their permit expires.”
71% are more likely to support Candidate B

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Finally, when discussing immigration reform, tone and language are extremely important. To continue to grow the
party, we must conduct this debate with civility and respect for our nation’s heritage – as the President has said, we are
both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. That is why the American people favor a balanced plan that secures
the border, improves enforcement, enhances immigration avenues AND deals compassionately and equitably with
those who are already here.

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