Republican National Committee MEMORANDUM

TO: FROM: Republican National Committee Members Matthew Dowd, RNC Senior Advisor Public Opinion On Immigration Reform 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.

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 63 63 GOP Support 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.

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 Tamper-proof identity card foreign workers Temporary worker program / register, pay taxes, and return home Temporary worker program/ Some reform is better than current situation Temporary worker program / Reduce pressure on the border Sending National Guard troops 77 76 84 GOP Support 93 89 86 85 87 82

63 63

Building more detainment facilities



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 churchgoing 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 80 80 72 71 No Action


19 12




Active 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 •


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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