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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

DCorps: Warning on Immigration

The latest Democracy Corps strategic memo from Stan Greenberg, Al Quinlan and James Carville shows an intensification of “wrong track” sentiment and continued Democratic advantages in generic balloting, approval ratings, and key “swing” congressional contests.
But the memo comes with several blunt warnings about the danger that Democrats could wind up alongside Republicans in the crossfire of public anger over certain issues. While Iraq, health care, corruption and economic worries continue to help Democrats, voters are also persistently angry about taxes. And on one issue, immigration, Democrats and independents as well as Republicans are drifting towards positions more associated with Tom Tancredo than with the mainstream of Democratic elected official opinion.

When we tested a comprehensive proposal in a bi-partisan poll for NPR, we got (44)
percent support for a plan to increase enforcement on the borders and work place and deny most
government benefits but recognizing we cannot expel 12 million, creates a path for citizenship
for the law abiding – a big change in status with opportunities for fuller integration into
America. That is likely a presidential issue that could gain further support with public debate.
When we tested a plan earlier without the reassurance on benefits, the plan got only 39 percent,
suggesting how challenging this issue will be for ordinary candidates without the full platform
available at a presidential level. Even with the reassurance on control and benefits, 40 percent
of Democrats and a majority of African Americans favored the tougher Republican alternative
that provided no path to legalization. This is a real wedge issue that Democrats need to get right.

Indeed, the DCorps analysts suggest that immigration may pose the same chaltlenge to Democrats today that welfare reform posed to their predecessors going into the 1992 presidential election. Immigration is now cited as the single top reason for “wrong-track” sentiment by self-identified independents, more important than Iraq or health care. To show how contemporary opinion doesn’t nicely break down on familiar ideological lines, the second-largest concern in this group was about energy independence and global warming.
But a full reading of the DCorps memo indicates that Republicans are far more in danger of sounding out of touch with current trends than are Democrats. Consider all the you-never-had-it-so-good rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates (other than Huckabee and Paul) about the economy:

In the focus groups [of swing voters], we handed people a page of positive facts about the economy – and we nearly had to rescue the moderator from the disbelieving and angry participants. In fact,
before this exercise, we asked people to write down two important things happening with the
economy and none of the 40 participants said anything positive, with their negative notations
centered on the high “cost of living.” It is hard to underestimate the power of a Democratic
message that simply recognizes the economic realities that are very real for these voters.

And it’s hard to underestimate the poitical blindness of Republicans who keep telling these voters to look on the sunny side and stay optimistic. Optimism is not exactly in high supply among Americans this particular moment in history.

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