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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Immigration: DCorps Sounds Another Alarm

The fine folks at DemocracyCorps devoted all of their latest batch of polling and strategic analysis to the single issue of immigration. And they are once again sounding an alarm that this could be a dangerous wedge issue for Democrats in 2008 if they mishandle it.
The tone of urgency in the DCorps report is probably a reaction to a subtle but very real sense of relief among many Democrats that immigration hasn’t, so far, been an election-decider much of anywhere in 2006 or in 2007 special elections. Indeed, there’s even been something of a backlash against the idea that Democrats should change their rhetoric on the subject at all (viz. this recent Markos Moulitsas post that treats Democratic fears about immigration as part of a general pattern of timidity and unprincipled weakness). Another factor feeding this backlash is the belief that harsh Republican rhetoric on illegal immigration is creating a pro-Democratic trend among Latino voters that will offset or even dwarf any benefit the GOP gets from emphasizing the issue, though presumably polls like those done by DCorps take that into account in measuring net effects.
Confusing the matter even more, of course, is the fact that the political fallout over the immigration issue varies tremendously from place to place; DCorps emhasizes that its impact may be greatest in hotly contested Congressional elections (typically in states and districts where immigrants are numerous enough to represent a perceived cultural threat, but not numerous enough to constitute an important voting bloc–e.g., much of the Midwest and South).
In any event, the latest DCorps research suggests that anti-immigration sentiment is getting more, not less, pervasive and intense; that big majorities of Americans are rejecting anything other than an enforcement-first message, while equivocating a bit on the choice between enforcement-only and “comprehensive” approaches; and, most importantly, that immigration messages could for better or worse turn a significant number of votes, especially among less-educated Democrats and all sorts of independents.
Like many previous polls, the DCorps survey shows about two-thirds of respondents favoring a very stringent-sounding version of a “path to citizenship” proposal, including fines and English proficiency requirements before allowing applications for citizenship. But since an actual majority of respondents (52%) support “deporting all illegal immigrants”–and 35% support that “idea” strongly–it’s natural to infer that support for a citizenship path would be contingent on “touch back” provisions that require undocumented people to leave the country first. Moreover, DCorps suggests that the public has simply and perhaps irreversibly made up its mind to oppose non-essential benefits for illegal immigrants and their children; anyone supporting drivers’ rights or taxpayer-subsidized college aid is barking up a very tall tree.
After arguing that Democrats should make enforcement a strong and threshold issue in addressing the issue, DCorps also explores distinctive Democratic talking points, and suggests that support for tough employer sanctions is a very good idea.
In many respects, the DCorps analysis parallels that of TDS contributor Andew Levison, whose strategy memo on immigration suggests a message that combines support for serious enforcement measures with a distinctive Democratic counterattack on the Republican position. DCorps does not test the specific sub-messages Levison recommends, such as drawing attention to Republican economic policies that have exacerbated the immigration problem, or denouncing enforcement-only approaches for dividing families. But DCorps’ polling does suggest that moral arguments on immigration are more powerful than economic arguments, which again indicates that the power of any Democratic argument depends on first addressing the “rewarding lawbreakers” issue.
It’s all pretty complicated, and I’m sympathetic to those who say Democrats should just go with their pro-immigrant heritage and let the chips fall where they may. But to the extent that both sides of the intra-Democratic immigration debate appeal to political considerations, DCorps’ data and analysis, and Levison’s own strategic take, should be read carefully.

3 comments on “Immigration: DCorps Sounds Another Alarm

  1. Data Guy on

    And one final point: the 12 million or so illegals should be allowed to regularize, but the jobs that they are allowed to take must also be carefully regulated. The illegals have been moving up the jobs ladder. 20 years ago, it was ag labor and meatpacking only. Now, they are infiltrating construction and other higher level jobs. This must be stopped. There is no need for cheapo scab foreign labor.
    in particular, the H-1B program should be terminated entirely.

  2. Data Guy on

    I agree with the article. We need to watch very carefully. Immigration will be a wedge issue. There is a simple approach to immigration:
    1) pro-enforcement
    2) anti-illegal
    3) reasoned approach to legal immigration
    The “reason that anti-immigration sentiment” has pervaded is because there are a huge number of illegal immigrants who are taking American jobs. It’s not xenophobia or racism, it’s simply self-preservation. Amazingly enough to the pro-illegal wacks, Americans are very smart about this sort of thing, and can see what’s going on.

  3. aml on

    well lets see….
    the xenophobic right howls incessantly about the big bad brown people and gets amplification from the lou dobbs of the world
    the main street economy is in the tank
    moral arguments get no play.
    democrats cower and hide
    and then we’re surprised that an anti-immigrant sentiment begins to pervade the electorate.
    sounds to me like textbook demagoguery…done well


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