The Corner

Public Opinion on Immigration

Yesterday, Kathryn quoted White House aide Nicholas Thompson, who in turn cited a Tarrance/Lake poll showing overwhelming public support for the immigration deal.

75% of American voters said they would favor a plan that:  provided resources to greatly increase border security; impose much tougher penalties on employers who hire illegal workers; allow additional foreign workers to come to the US to work for a temporary period; create a system in which illegal immigrants could come forward and register, pay a fine, and receive a temporary work permit; and provide these temporary workers with a multi-year path to earned citizenship, if they get to the end of the line and meet certain requirements like living crime free, learning English, and paying taxes.  Only 17% opposed this plan.

The poll establishes that comprehensive immigration reform can be described in a way that wins the approval of most people who hear it thus described. But this is not terribly useful information, as other types of immigration policies can also win support when they are characterized by their proponents.

The poll would be more useful if it tested common arguments against comprehensive reform to see how much they reduced support (if at all), or if it fairly tested competing policies against its favored plan. But its description of the alternative policy of attrition is loaded against it. The poll is a test of spin, not policy, and the White House would be foolish to rely on it.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.