On Immigration, Racial Divide Runs Deep

Mark Murray, MSNBC, May 26, 2010

White and Latino Americans are deeply divided over immigration, their allegiances to the nation’s political parties and their opinions about President Barack Obama, according to a new NBC/MSNBC/Telemundo poll.

And in the wake of Arizona’s controversial anti-illegal immigration law, the survey suggests that Republicans could get an immediate political boost, but may face a long-term problem among Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group.

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Breaking down the white-Latino divide

In the poll, 61 percent say they favor Arizona’s new anti-illegal immigration law, {snip}.

But there’s a divide among white and Latino respondents: 70 percent of whites support the law, versus just 31 percent of Latinos. In fact, 58 percent of Latinos say they strongly oppose it.

That’s not the only chasm between White and Latino America. While 68 percent of Latinos believe that immigration strengthens the United States, just 43 percent of whites think that.

And they differ in their perceptions about Obama and the political parties. Although the president’s job-approval rating sits at 48 percent overall, down two points from an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll earlier this month, only 38 percent of whites approve of Obama’s job, versus 68 percent of Latinos who do.

What’s more, 37 percent of whites view the Republican Party favorably, while just 22 percent of Latinos have a favorable impression of the GOP.

And although only 34 percent of whites hold a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, 54 percent of Latinos view the party in a positive light.

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Short-term and long-term political fallout

According to the poll, Arizona’s law could benefit Republicans in the short term if they choose to make it a campaign issue. {snip}

Forty percent of registered voters say they would side with a Republican congressional candidate who supports the law, compared with 26 percent who would back a Democratic candidate who opposes it.

In particular, Hart notes that women over 50 and white suburban women–who tend to support generic Democratic congressional candidates–are more inclined to vote for a Republican who supports the Arizona law.

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{snip} Latinos remain a sleeping–yet growing–political giant. In the poll, 23 percent of Latino respondents said they aren’t registered to vote, versus 12 percent of whites and 16 percent of African Americans.

In addition, Latinos under the age of 40 have a stronger attachment to President Obama (73 percent of them approve of his job) and a stronger dislike of Arizona’s law (75 percent of them oppose it) than older Latinos do.

And Latinos young and old think Democrats would do a better job than Republicans in protecting the interests of minorities (58-11 percent), in representing the opportunity to move up the economic ladder (46-20 percent), in dealing with immigration (37-12 percent) and in promoting strong moral values (33-23 percent).

The only advantage that they gave Republicans was in enforcing security along the U.S.-Mexico border (31-20 percent).

Early support for comprehensive immigration reform

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Yet the NBC/MSNBC/Telemundo poll shows early public support for comprehensive immigration reform, with 60 percent of all adults favoring it and 29 percent opposing it.

Also, supermajorities back the individual components of this reform.

For example: 73 percent support imposing new fines on businesses that hire illegal immigrants; 71 percent support increasing border security by building a fence along the border and training more Border Patrol agents; and 65 percent support allowing undocumented immigrants who are already in the country to pay a fine, learn English and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become U.S. citizens.

McInturff, however, cautions against reading too much into this early support–given that the poll didn’t test the language that opponents of comprehensive immigration reform would use. In addition, he points out that only 19 percent of all adults say they strongly favor the legislation, which suggests soft support.

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Other results

Here are some other results from the NBC/MSNBC/Telemundo poll:

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* And 49 percent say the U.S. should continue to grant citizenship to all children born in the United States, versus 46 percent who believe the law should be changed so that children of illegal immigrants are not automatically granted citizenship. (Among Latinos, a whopping 79 percent believe the country should continue to grant automatic citizenship.)

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