Americans appear to be moving toward consensus on the difficult issue of immigration reform, with 76 percent of those surveyed in the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll saying that the nation should allow some or all of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants to remain in the United States if they meet certain conditions of residency and good behavior.
Not quite as many Americans—but still a solid majority—support the theory that climate change has increased the likelihood that devastating storms will hit the U.S., and most respondents are willing to support tougher regulations and pay higher energy bills to help halt global warming.
These poll results come as Congress returns for a lame-duck session in the wake of last week’s general election. The survey is the latest in a series of polls tracking public priorities for Congress, and the first to be taken since Election Day. Lawmakers in the lame-duck session are not expected to address either immigration or climate change, but those who return in the 113th Congress may well find both on their agenda—and widespread support for action.
The survey showed growing acceptance of undocumented immigrants over the past year. When pollsters asked the question in December 2011, 67 percent said that the government should permit such immigrants to stay. The percentage of those who want all illegal immigrants deported has shrunken from 25 percent to 17 percent over that same period.
A third of those polled thought that all illegal immigrants should be permitted to stay if they have broken no other laws and if they promise to learn English and U.S. history. A slightly larger group of those polled—43 percent—are also willing to offer residency, but only to those law-abiding immigrants who have been in the country “for many years.”
Immigration is a pressing issue for many Latino voters, a growing demographic group that voted roughly 3-to-1 for President Obama in last week’s election. Several conservative commentators, as well as leading Republican strategists and officeholders, have since stressed the need for the GOP to appeal to the Latino electorate, which views the party with skepticism for its hard-line stance on immigration. Another growing ethnic group—Asian-Americans—supported Obama with similar enthusiasm, according to exit polls.
Female respondents were the most forgiving: Only 12 percent thought that all illegal immigrants should be deported, as opposed to 23 percent of men. Black men and women were more forgiving than their white counterparts: Just 6 percent of African-American respondents opted for full deportation, as opposed to 21 percent of whites. White men without college diplomas took the hardest line on deportation, but even among this group, almost two-thirds supported some sort of process to let illegal immigrants stay, and just 34 percent opted for full deportation.
Twenty-nine percent of Republicans supported the harshest immigration policy, but only 5 percent of Democrats. The figure for independents was 21 percent. Support for full deportation was strongest in rural America, as well as the South and Midwest, but in no region of the country did it top 21 percent.
The poll also asked voters about climate change, a topic that has met fierce resistance from Republican candidates and commentators but that has drawn new attention in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the major damage the superstorm caused on the East Coast. A healthy majority of those polled—57 percent—said they believed that climate change is increasing the likelihood of such devastating storms. Among that group, 74 percent said that Congress should act “more urgently” to address climate change, even if necessary regulations raised the cost of electricity and other energy.
Climate policy was more controversial than immigration, however, with 79 percent of Democrats, 29 percent of Republicans, and 56 percent of independents agreeing that climate change contributes to catastrophic storms. Age was another divider, as young people were the most persuaded by scientific conclusions on global warming: 68 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 believed the likelihood of natural disasters is greater. Skepticism increased with age, as 56 percent of the next two older cohorts—those between 30 and 49 years of age and those between 50 and 64—supported the theory, and just 53 percent of those over the age of 65. Still, that was a majority.
Women (62 percent) were more believing then men (51 percent) on the subject. And the regional differences matched those on immigration, with the East (68 percent) and West (64 percent) leading the Midwest (52 percent) and the South (51 percent) among those who believed that changes in the climate cause violent weather.
The Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed 1,000 adults from Nov. 8–11. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
This article appears in the Nov. 14, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.