Posted on June 1, 2010

Californians Split on Arizona’s Illegal Immigration Crackdown

Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times, May 31, 2010

California voters are closely divided over the crackdown on illegal immigration in Arizona, with sharp splits along lines of ethnicity and age, according to a new Los Angeles Times/USC poll.

Overall, 50% of registered voters surveyed said they support the law, which compels police to check the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally, while 43% oppose it. That level of support is lower than polls have indicated nationwide.

But attitudes among the state’s voters are not uniform. Strong majorities of white voters and those over 50 support the Arizona law, while Latinos and those under 30 are heavily opposed.

Arizona’s adoption of the law in April stirred passions and protests across the nation, with cities including Los Angeles voting to boycott the state. The matter has turned into a pressure point in electoral battles, including the Republican gubernatorial primary in California. But the poll shows that most voters, even those with ardent feelings about the measure, said they were unlikely to reject candidates based solely on their immigration stances.

Those who oppose the law were more likely to say they would only support a candidate who agreed with them on that issue, with 1 in 3 making the Arizona law a litmus test for their vote. Supporters of the Arizona law were more likely to say they were voting on other issues.

Gina Bonecutter, 39, a Republican and fervent supporter of the Arizona measure, said she was frustrated by what she sees as unwillingness by recent immigrants to acclimate to American culture. The Laguna Hills mother and part-time educational therapist said large numbers of illegal immigrants are hurting public schools, one of the reasons she placed her four children in private school.

“What I’m seeing today is immigrants coming here, wanting us to become like Mexico, instead of wanting to become American,” she said. “That’s never going to work.”

But in the GOP primary, Bonecutter is supporting Meg Whitman, who opposes the Arizona law, instead of Steve Poizner, who supports it. Poizner has made his support of the law a defining issue in the race, but among his supporters only 9% said they chose the candidate because of his immigration stance.

With the state’s finances in dire straits, Bonecutter said Whitman’s business background is more important.

On the other side of the issue, Daisy Vidal, 23, of Banning said Arizona’s law will lead to racial profiling and she would never vote for a politician who supported it. A registered Democrat, Vidal is a first-generation American, born after her family immigrated to the United States legally in the mid-1980s.

“There should be some type of pathway to citizenship,” said the Cal State San Bernardino student. “This whole country was started by immigrants.”

The survey of 1,506 registered voters was conducted between May 19 and 26 for The Times and the University of Southern California College of Letters, Arts and Sciences by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and the Republican firm American Viewpoint. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 2.6 percentage points for the overall sample and slightly larger for smaller breakdowns.