Candidates’ Immigration Stances Unkmown To Voters

Candidates' Immigration Stances Unknown To Voters

By: Bradley Vasoli
The Philadelphia Bulletin

A poll commissioned by the D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) found that American primary and caucus voters generally know little of the major presidential candidates' immigration policies.

In addition to lacking knowledge of their candidate's stances on immigration, many voters also registered personal views on immigration at variance with the candidate they supported. The surveys bespoke a public much more amenable to restricting immigration than any of its current presidential choices.

“I think the main thing is,” CIS research director Steven Camarota explained, “people just don't follow many issues very closely. People have a life to live and even [regarding] issues that are pretty salient, people just don't keep that close a track.”

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have all backed amnesties for millions of illegal aliens, yet only 42 percent of Clinton supporters, 52 percent of Obama supporters and 34 percent of McCain backers imputed that policy to their candidate.

Dr. Camarota said the public's overwhelming failure to recognize Mr. McCain's position owes somewhat to his efforts to publicly distance himself from a bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) that would put many illegal immigrants on a path to legal residency. After the bill failed to pass Congress last summer, Mr. McCain professed to heed what he perceived as voters' strong sentiment that stepped-up enforcement should precede any mass legalization.

Only 31 percent of Mr. McCain's supporters agreed with his support for new legalizations while 45 percent of Mrs. Clinton's voters did and 61 percent of Mr. Obama's did.

And as the poll determined that restrictionist voters outnumbered pro-amnesty voters, it also found that restrictionists tended to give the issue greater political weight. Nearly nine out of 10 Republican voters who wanted heightened enforcement against illegal entrants said they “strongly supported” it, compared to fewer than half of pro-amnesty GOP voters who strongly favored legalization. Among Democratic supporters of more enforcement, over 70 percent strongly supported it whereas fewer than 60 percent of pro-legalization Democrats strongly approved of the policy.

Dr. Camarota said this apparent disconnect between the public and its presidential candidates on immigration reflects the comparatively copious time public officials spend speaking with prominent constituency heads (e.g. business leaders, religious leaders and nonprofit heads) rather than ordinary Americans.

“There's a kind of elite echo-chamber on the issue,” he said.

Bradley Vasoli can be reached at