Americans say: Avoid a showdown on immigration reform

Satisfying GOP hard-liners on immigration will backfire with the public, according to our latest poll.

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Barely two weeks into the start of the 114th Congress, the newly expanded Republican majority in the House wasted no time flexing its muscle, voting to roll back President Obama’s executive order to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

These provisions were part of a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Senate Republicans must now decide how hard to push a House bill that might satisfy GOP hard-liners but whose chances of passing the Senate are slim to none. At the same time, Congress faces a very real deadline: funding for DHS dries up at the end of February.

Lincoln Park Strategies’ latest poll suggests that the GOP majority might be better off working to find a compromise on immigration reform. While the majority of Americans disapprove of President Obama’s unilateral actions on immigration, playing chicken with “defunding” DHS is also likely to backfire.

According to our national poll conducted in December, a majority of Americans (52 percent) disapprove of President Obama’s executive action that allows certain undocumented immigrants to remain in the country. This includes 38 percent who strongly disapprove of the President taking this action.

However, 39 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s actions, and 9 percent are unsure. Unsurprisingly, those with the strongest opposition are self-identified Republicans, among whom more than three-quarters (76 percent) strongly disapprove and only 9 percent approve overall. Meanwhile, 65 percent of Democrats approve of Obama’s executive order while just a quarter disapprove (25 percent). Independents fall closer to Republicans on this issue, but not as strongly, with 59 percent disapproving, (including 37 percent disapproving strongly, and 30 percent approving. A similar division is also found along racial lines. Nearly three in five African-Americans (59 percent) and Hispanics (58 percent) approve of Obama’s actions on immigration reform, while 62 percent of white Americans disapprove.

But while Republicans and a majority of Independents are clear that they disapprove of Obama’s unilateral action on immigration, there’s far less consensus about how Republicans in Congress should respond.

Almost a third (32 percent) of those who disapprove of President Obama’s actions think that Republicans in Congress should pass their own immigration reform bill, but another quarter (25 percent) think that it would be best to vote to impeach the President. “Defunding” Homeland Security receives support from only 10 percent of Americans who disapprove of Obama’s actions (a number that is likely lower now given the recent killings in Paris and the news out of Nigeria about Boko Haram), while 16 percent are unsure as to what the Republicans’ response should be. The lowest priority for those who disapprove is to simply voice opposition but not take legislative action (5 percent), and only 6 percent think shutting down the government is the right option.

Among Republicans, impeaching Obama is the most popular option, winning support from over a third of the party (35 percent), while 29 percent support the idea of Republicans passing their own bill. The opposite is true among Independents who disapprove of the executive action: a plurality think that Republicans should pass their own bill (35 percent) and only 19 percent believe the GOP should move to impeach the President.

Interestingly, preferences in policy options also translate into preferences for a GOP presidential candidate. Among those who think that Republicans should pass their own immigration bill, 42 percent would vote for one of the many current and former governors potentially in the mix: New Jersey’ Chris Christie, Florida’s Jeb Bush, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee, or Texas’ Rick Perry. These would-be candidates get less support (32 percent) from those who think impeachment is the best move (32 percent). Among these voters, senatorial candidates such as Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum are almost as popular (favored by 28 percent).

The bottom line: While not everyone supports Obama taking unilateral action to address the issue, but the vast majority of Americans (60 percent) want to see Congress and the President take constructive steps to fixing the immigration system in this country. Fewer than a third of voters in our poll want to see Obama fail by any means necessary – whether it be impeachment, defunding DHS, or shutting down the entire government.

The next few weeks will show whether Republicans will heed public sentiment and get down to the business of crafting a bill that can pass both chambers and be signed into law. While those who want to blow the system up are the loudest and most vocal, granting them their wish will ultimately backfire on the GOP. What the American public really just wants to see is rational, productive change when it comes to immigration policy.

Stefan Hankin is Founder and President of Lincoln Park Strategies, a public opinion research firm based in Washington, D.C.

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