By Marcelo Ballve
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
Latinos, the targets of aggressive election-year courting by both political parties, are evenly split on whether to support the White House’s new immigration proposal, according to a new poll.
Overall, the poll shows a surprisingly lukewarm reaction to an initiative thought to be aimed directly at currying favor with Latinos.
“I think the political expectations were that this would have more support,” says Sergio Bendixen, whose Miami-based polling firm, Bendixen and Associates, conducted the poll. “I don’t think anybody would have guessed that that it would be split down the middle,” with 45 percent of Latinos saying they supported the plan and an equal number opposing it. Ten percent offered no opinion.
The poll of 800 Latinos was sponsored by New California Media (NCM), an association of ethnic media outlets that is a project of Pacific News Service. It was conducted between Jan. 20 and Jan. 26 and involved a nationally representative sample of Latinos, including 396 Latino registered voters.
President Bush announced his proposal Jan. 7.
Probably most worrisome to election-year strategists at the White House are results suggesting the immigration proposal did not translate into discernible gains in approval ratings or intended votes for President George W. Bush, who has courted Latinos aggressively throughout his first term.
Still, Bendixen says President Bush’s level of Latino support is still “very good” for a Republican president, with 53 percent of Latinos giving him a positive job rating. But only 30 percent of the Latino registered voters polled said they would vote for the president over a Democratic candidate in the Nov. 4 election.
The job rating and voting intention results showed no gains in President Bush’s favor when compared to several recent polls of Latinos taken before the immigration proposal was announced, including a New York Times/CBS poll and two conducted by Pew Hispanic Center.
President Bush’s immigration proposal, announced with an eloquent description of the hardships faced by undocumented immigrants and praise of their contributions, did strike a chord.
A high number of respondents, 74 percent, said they were aware of the proposal.
Latinos found a lot to like: a majority approved of the fact that the plan gave freedom to workers to travel back-and-forth to their homelands, that temporary workers would be able to bring families along if they could prove that they could support them, and that social security payments would be credited to home-country retirement systems.
Upon being first asked about the proposal, before any details of the plan were revealed, 42 percent of Latinos said they supported President Bush’s proposal; 20 percent said they opposed it.
Opposition surged and opinions became evenly divided once respondents were offered a three-sentence summary of Bush’s proposal, which included the fact that after six years “most of those in the program would have to return to their home countries.”
A 58 percent majority said they didn’t like the fact that the plan does not guarantee U.S. citizenship or permanent residency cards to undocumented immigrants. Temporary workers must either leave the country or be subject to deportation after their work-term expires.
“They want something better,” Bendixen says. “The biggest question (Bush) has to answer is what happens to these people after six years.”
Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, says that under this plan, immigrant workers will see “every incentive for them to come” and to return home. To head off conservative criticisms, President Bush has repeatedly said that he opposes any amnesty that rewards undocumented immigrants.
The poll showed that Latinos are sensitive to the idea that the president’s offer of an immigration plan was part of an election-year gambit to gain traction with the fast-growing Latino electorate, which gave him 35 percent of the vote in the 2000 presidential elections. Sixty-three percent said they agreed with critics of the plan who say that President Bush does not really care about Latinos and that he’s only interested in their votes.
When given a choice between President Bush’s proposal and an immigration policy that would allow undocumented immigrants to “earn” legalization, such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus plan and a bipartisan plan offered Jan. 21 by Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Latinos jumped at the alternative: 75 percent said they would prefer an “earned legalization” policy; only 16 percent chose President Bush’s plan.
In the poll, immigration lagged behind jobs and the economy, health care and education in terms of Latinos’ top concerns.