« Free Markets Work - by Larry Kudlow | The RCP Blog Home Page | NBC/WSJ: Bad News for Bush, Good News for GOP? »

Immigration Issue Could Lead to 3rd Party Candidate - by Scott Rasmussen

Over the past generation, Republicans and Democrats have battled to a draw on issues ranging from taxes to abortion. Both sides have poll-tested, focus-grouped, nuanced answers for these issues and supporters have lined up with the party of their choice.

Even the War on Iraq takes place against a political backdrop that all participants in the process understand--Democrats need to oppose the War while fighting a perception that they are weak on national security. Republicans want to focus on the global threat of terrorism rather than specifics in Iraq.

Immigration is entirely different.

It's not the most important issue to voters (except in a few Southwestern States) but it could shake up the nation's political equilibrium more than the economy, Iraq, or any other contemporary issue. Our latest polling shows that a pro-enforcement third party candidate could attract more support than a generic Republican presidential candidate in 2008 (and also be tied with the Democrats). Conservatives divide equally between Republicans and the third party candidate. Moderates divide equally between Democrats and the third party candidate. (This should be taken as an indication of the issue's power rather than a literal projection of election outcomes).

The issue has power because politicians from both parties have ignored it for a long time and haven't begun to figure out the nuances or context of the debate.

Most current discussion by elected officials starts with a focus on illegal aliens. For most voters, that's letting the tail wag the dog.

The best place to start is with the bigger picture where most Americans agree. We've been polling state-by-state on this issue all month and consistently find agreement on a few key points.

1. Most Americans in all states want a welcoming national immigration policy that lets our nation assimilate new people into the national melting pot. Our polls have consistently found strong support for a policy goal that welcomes everybody except criminals, national security, threats, and those who want to live off our welfare system.

2. Just as important, most Americans also want a policy that emphasizes enforcement first. They want the nation to gain control of its borders and enforce existing laws before other reforms are considered.

3. As a pragmatic step to support the first two points, most Americans want to build a barrier along the Mexican border.

These goals are not at all contradictory. In fact, they flow naturally from the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, a nation of laws, and a nation of pragmatic problem solvers.

Where does this leave the 11 million or so illegal immigrants living and working in the USA? Unfortunately, they are the pawns in the current debate, but not the central issue.

Let's hope there's a leader out there ready to focus on the bigger picture of the immigration debate... a picture that is welcoming, enforceable, and enforced.

If that person doesn't step forward, it's easy to envision an outcome that only a political junkie could love. Imagine that the nation remains bitterly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Then, a 3rd party candidate campaigns on immigration, picks up a few Southwestern states, and prevents either party's Presidential nominee from winning a majority of the Electoral College. Not a pretty picture.