Worth Discussing

Conditions are Key for Republican Support on Immigration Reform

Luke Frans | April 12, 2013

With the “Gang of Eight” U.S. senators set to release their proposal, immigration reform will soon vault to the forefront of the national discussion. The imminent announcement is the next of many important stages in the delicate immigration debate, and with it, many Republican voters will begin to tune in. 

At the outset of this debate, Republican lawmakers should highlight the tough border security measures and stringent requirements necessary to qualify for citizenship. These conditions assure Republican voters that the process will be fair to all involved, especially those who have already legally applied for citizenship.

That is exactly the dynamic we found in Resurgent Republic focus groups. Moreover, recent public polling reinforces the importance of highlighting the requirements.

According to a Washington Post/ABC News survey in late March, 6 in 10 Republicans oppose a path to citizenship in response to a topline question. When considering intensity, Republicans overwhelmingly side with the opposition when the discussion remains at the surface level. By 3 to 1, Republican voters strongly oppose a path to citizenship (41 to 13 percent).

Yet when Republicans are reminded of the conditions, the pendulum swings convincingly in favor of immigration reform. The April NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll asked questions both with and without conditions and the differing results are striking.

When presented without conditions, 51 percent of Republicans oppose immigration reform defined as “a pathway to citizenship that would allow foreigners who have jobs but are staying illegally in the United States the opportunity to eventually become legal American citizens.”

But when presented with the conditions likely to be in the Senate bill, such as having undocumented immigrants pass a background check and pay fines and back taxes, Republican views shift dramatically in favor, 73 percent.

This survey is far from an outlier. Other polling this year consistently shows two-thirds Republican support for immigration reform when outlining the conditions.

There will be significant media coverage on the end result of the Senate immigration proposal. Even so, Republican lawmakers are more likely to garner support among their core supporters by focusing on the key conditions and border enforcement triggers that must be implemented first. The devil is not in the details.

Filed under: Immigration Reform