WASHINGTON – Americans want the nation’s broken immigration system fixed, but they’re torn over how to do it.
A new McClatchy-Marist poll found the public split along familiar lines. Republicans want changes to be mostly about protecting the borders, while Democrats favor a path to citizenship for most of the undocumented immigrants now in the country.
The poll also sampled opinion about how lawmakers should deal with two other polarizing topics: Gay marriage and voting rights, and found similar partisan divides over how to proceed.
Congress is mired in talks over how to mend the immigration system. The Democratic-run Senate last month passed bipartisan legislation that would create a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, but the Republican-run House of Representatives refuses to even debate it.
“People are eager to see action on immigration reform,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the poll. “This is a high priority. But gridlock sets in because people are divided about what path it should take.”
The House plans to consider a series of bills that stress border security, though sentiment is building for some measure that allows children of undocumented immigrants a means of gaining citizenship.
“There’s broad support for doing something for children who were brought here,” said Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, a leading Republican voice on immigration issues. But he also warned, “We first have to have border security.”
The partisan schism mirrors the national rift. While slightly more than half see immigration policy as an immediate priority, and another third see it as a priority over the next few years, people are split over remedies. Nearly half of registered voters want changes to be mostly about stronger border protection, while 43 percent want to concentrate on a path to citizenship.
Republicans prefer border security first by a 3-to-1 margin; Democrats want the citizenship policy first, by 2-to-1.
The poll is also a vivid reminder of the political stakes. Republicans have given immigration urgency as they struggle to woo Latino voters. The party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, got an estimated 27 percent of the Hispanic vote last year, down from the 44 percent President George W. Bush got in 2004.
Latinos are watching the debate closely, and nearly two-thirds of Hispanic adults want a path to citizenship as a priority. Whites rank border security first, 53-38 percent.
The political world is also watching voting rights issues. Last month, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1965 law credited with making it easier for millions of black voters to go to the polls.
Some Republicans have been reluctant to enact new safeguards, but the Obama administration is moving aggressively to fight the ruling. The Justice Department said Thursday it would bring lawsuits to either block states from imposing certain restrictions or require them to get approval before changing election laws.
The poll shows a majority of voters think voting rights remains a problem and should be addressed by Congress, but sentiment breaks along party and racial lines. More than three-fourths of Democrats want action, compared with about a third of Republicans. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans think voting rights issues are largely a thing of the past.
Strong Democratic majorities view the matter as a priority, either immediately or over the next few years, while a majority of Republicans do not see it as a priority or are unsure.
Some ideas got strong support, notably requiring voters to show identification in order to vote, and early voting. Nearly 60 percent of registered voters liked the idea of voting Sunday before the election, and a majority backed same-day registration.
Similar patterns were evident when people were asked about legalizing gay marriage. Half the registered voters favored same-sex marriage, while 40 percent were opposed, views that have been largely stable for about two years.
“There’s been a change over time,” said Miringoff. “There’s been a shift among all groups.”
Partisan differences did surface. Nationally, more than half of registered voters said legalized gay marriage should be decided by federal law. About two-thirds of Democrats agreed, while 56 percent of Republicans thought the matter should be decided by each state.
The telephone survey of 1,024 U.S. adults was conducted July 15-18. Phone numbers were selected from throughout the nation, and each region was represented in proportion to its population. Random cellphone respondents were included in the survey to increase coverage.
The survey’s results are statistically significant within 2.8 percentage points. The poll includes 980 registered voters. Results for these respondents are statistically significant within 3.1 percentage points. The margin of error increases when both groups of respondents are cross-tabulated.
©2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau
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