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Pollsters: Immigration Reform Would Benefit GOP

Pollsters: Immigration Reform Would Benefit GOP

By Christina Breitbeil - June 11, 2014

Hispanic voters have the potential to play a decisive role in upcoming elections, meaning that immigration reform should be a Republican priority, according to two surveys taken by a consortium of 10 top GOP polling firms.

The polling of 800 registered Hispanic voters found that immigration enforcement continues to be a touchstone for Latino public opinion. And one, the pollsters insisted, that need not unravel Republican electoral prospects.

The key questions in the surveys centered on immigration. Specifically, the pollsters delved into legislative proposals that call for increased border security, confirmation of legal status to obtain employment, and guest-worker programs -- but not the “amnesty” or pathway to citizenship favored by Democrats. In response, some 72 percent of Hispanics expressed support, with only 22 percent opposed.

Whit Ayres of Northstar Opinion Research, one of the firms conducting the surveys, conceded in a Wednesday press conference that about half the Hispanic vote will go to Democrats regardless of any legislative action taken to address immigration. But, he said, the data shows that some 25 percent of Latinos are open to Republican appeals -- enough to change the outcome of close elections in swing states.

This dovetails with the stated views of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, a founder of FWD.us, a pro-immigration group that sponsored the polling. But the shocking loss of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Tuesday’s Virginia GOP primary cast a pall over the pollsters’ planned presentation. That’s because Cantor’s stance on immigration aligns more closely with the one the pollsters assert is a winning message than with the views of the Tea Party candidate who defeated Cantor handily.

Queried about this discrepancy, the pollsters tried to steer a reporter away from reading too much into possible factors in that race.

"I would caution against drawing any easy shorthand conclusions that immigration was the thing that drove the election in Cantor's district yesterday," said Jon Lerner, founder of Basswood Research. "I don't know that there's much evidence to support that notion."

The pollsters also suggested that reporters look at the results in South Carolina’s Republican primary. There, Sen. Lindsey Graham, an even more outspoken supporter of immigration reform than Cantor, swamped a field of more conservative candidates on Tuesday.

“That is a much better test of how that issue plays out in a Republican primary than anything that happened in Virginia’s 7th District,” Ayres said.

The pollsters were also asked whether their clients really follow their advice on how to court the Hispanic vote, given that it seems a fraught issue among conservative constituencies.

“We certainly don’t tell our candidates and politicians what to believe,” said the Tarrance Group’s B.J. Martino. “I think they just need to understand -- our advice and recommendation here is that for the long-term viability and success of our party, this is the road we need to be headed down.” 

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Christina Breitbeil

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