Friday, June 08, 2007

Scott Rasmussen - common sense on why the Amnesty bill failed

Ace pollster Scott Rasmussen of Rasmussen Reports has some uncommon common sense to offer on why the Senate amnesty legislation failed(emphasis mine):

Elite newspapers and countless bloggers are writing their own explanations of why the compromise immigration legislation failed last night. Most of the write-ups discuss legislative tactics, an amendment offered by Senator Byron Dorgan (D), or some particular provision of the bill dealing with amnesty or guest workers.

The reality is much simpler and has nothing to do with legislative tactics. The immigration bill failed because a broad cross-section of the American people are opposed to it. Republicans, Democrats, and unaffiliated voters are opposed. Men are opposed. So are women. The young don’t like it; neither do the no-longer-young. White Americans are opposed. Americans of color are opposed.

The last Rasmussen Reports national telephone poll found that just 23% of Americans supported the legislation. When a bill has less popular support than the War in Iraq, it deserves to be defeated.

There is no mystery to why the public opposed the bill. In the minds of most Americans, immigration means reducing illegal immigration and enforcing the border. Only 16% believed the Senate bill would accomplish that goal.

It wasn’t amnesty or guest-worker programs or paths to citizenship that doomed the bill. Each of those provisions made it more difficult for some segments of the population to accept. However, most voters were willing to accept them as part of a true compromise that accomplished the primary goal of reducing illegal immigration.

The key to winning voter support was to accomplish that primary goal.

The Senators missed that point and that’s where the mystery resides in analyzing why this bill failed. It’s not unusual for political leaders to be out of touch with their constituents, but rarely this out of touch. How could something this unpopular with voters get so close to passage in a legislative body that is supposed to represent them?

From the beginning, the Senate approached the issue with top priority of addressing the legal status of the illegal aliens. They addressed concerns about guest-worker programs and questions about whether family or skill level should be more important when determining who could enter the country.

All of those are important questions, but they are not the most important question. Rasmussen Reports polling found that 72% of Americans believe it’s Very Important to reduce illegal immigration and enforce the borders. Just 29% said it was Very Important to legalize the status of those illegally living in the country today.

After ignoring the main point that voters were hoping to address, Senators should not have been shocked at the public reaction. But they were.

With all the polling data in the world today, how could they have failed to see this coming? While Rasmussen Reports was the only public polling firm to directly ask about support or opposition to the Senate bill, other polling data such as a recent CBS News/New York Times survey provided plenty of warning signs. Besides, the nation’s politicians purchase plenty of private polling data that should have given them a hint.

We live in a world where most Americans believe that most Members of Congress will sell their vote for cash or a campaign contribution. Only 16% believe the legislators’ votes are not for sale. By a nearly 5-to-1 margin, voters believe that Members of Congress are more interested in their own careers and agenda rather than the public good.

In that environment, the only way for political leaders to prove they are serious about enforcing the border and reducing illegal immigration will be to do it. That’s the next logical step in the immigration debate.

There are plenty of steps that could be taken quickly with solid voter support. Some may require new laws while others may simply require enforcement of the existing laws. But, voters aren’t concerned about the specifics—they’ll support serious efforts to reduce illegal immigration. This could include imposing employer sanctions, building a barrier, adding more border patrol agents, supporting local law enforcement efforts, and more.

Once the government actually enforces the border, then the debate can begin on all other aspects of immigration reform. Then, the same politicians who were stunned by their misreading of the public on this bill will probably be stunned to learn something else—most Americans actually do favor a welcoming and open immigration policy.

The United States is a nation of immigrants. It is also a nation of laws. Voters want to honor both aspects of the national heritage. And, like good parents trying to instill values in their children, voters want their elected representatives to do the same.

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