This report was made possible in part by a grant from the Four Freedoms Fund at Public Interest Projects, Inc. Project support from Unbound Philanthropy, Ford Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York also helped support this research and collateral communications materials. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

The research and writing of this report was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media with consultation from The Opportunity Agenda.

We would also like to thank the individuals who served on the Advisory Committee for this research.

Judith A. Browne- Davis, Advancement Project
Ellen Buchman, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Mariana Bustamante, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
Jorge-Mario Cabrera, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
Leonie Campbell-Williams, Asian American Justice Center
Adela De La Torre, National Immigration Law Center
Norman Eng, New York Immigration Coalition
Alexandra Filindra, Taubman Center for Public Policy & American Institutions, Brown University
Louie Gilot, Border Network for Human Rights
Lucas Guttentag, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
Margaret Huang, Rights Working Group
Benita Jain, Immigrant Defense Project
Angela Kelley, Center for American Progress
David Lubell, Welcoming America
Vivek Malhotra, ACLU National
Clarissa Martinez, National Council of La Raza
Meghan McDermott, Global Action Project
Shuya Ohno, National Immigration Forum
Shaady Salehi, Active Voice
Ellen Schneider, Active Voice
Catherine Tactaquin, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Center for Community Change
Nadine Wahab, Rights Working Group
Eric K. Ward, Center for New Community

Executive Summary

Project Background

The Opportunity Agenda commissioned GfK to conduct an online survey of three important constituencies to evaluate support and messaging around comprehensive immigration reform and its elements. The survey was conducted among African-American Likely Voters (AAs), Hispanic Likely Voters, and White Progressive Likely Voters (WPs). For each group, about 300 interviews were conducted between February 22 and March 5, 2010. The survey covered the following subjects:

  • The current political climate for immigration reform, including its relative importance, the desire for immediate action, and the values people associate with immigration.
  • Support levels for the core narrative – “We need workable solutions that uphold our values and move us forward together” – as well as for a Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) proposal, from its most basic form (path to legal status) to several alternative detailed proposals.
  • Support for the possible elements of reform.
  • Testing messages the progressive community could likely use in the debate.
  • Head-to-Head testing of messages from the pro-reform and anti-reform sides of the debate.
  • Likelihood of taking actions to support reform and pro-reform candidates.
  • Demographics for balancing the sample and providing profiles of key attitudinal groups.

Key Findings

  • There is broad support across all groups for the core narrative focused on “workable solutions that uphold our nation’s values, and move us forward together.” Majorities of these consistencies (51% – 63%) support immigration reform, defined as a process for illegal immigrants already in the country to register and live here legally, before they hear anything about it.
  • There is also near-unanimity in the importance of welcoming immigrants into the social fabric.
  • While support for reform exists, urgency for reform does not. Most agree the system is broken, but immigration is a relatively lower priority issue in today’s climate. However, most (but not all, especially among WP) would like to see the issue addressed this year.
  • Across all three major demographic groups surveyed, “Law and Order” is the top value that likely voters seek embodied in immigration policy. Among AAs and WPs likely voters, “Respect for American Culture” is a strong second, followed by “Equality” and “Fairness.” Hispanic voters do have a somewhat different values profile than either African American or White Progressive voters, but they are by no means entirely dissimilar. Hispanics, too, rank “Law and order” first, with “Fairness,” “Opportunity,” and “Respect for American Culture” clustered together in the second tier.
  • The dominant values running through the persuadable block of voters centers on Law and Order and Respect for American Culture. However, Persuadables also react positively to messages that focus on basic rights, practical solutions, and attacks on big business. Avoiding attacks on enforcement, while addressing basic rights and the contributions (taxes paid) of undocumented workers will help maximize support for CIR.
  • Hispanic voters empathize more with immigrant aspirations for opportunity and family unification, but they, too, place “Law and Order” at the top of the list of values that immigrant policy should promote.
  • Public opinion toward CIR is highly elastic within these three groups. That is, the majority of likely voters polled is “in play” and can be attracted to and repelled from reform depending on what elements they understand any such proposal to contain. One-third of the sample favored reform each time they were asked about it, and just 6% did not favor reform (either opposed it, or were on the fence) each time they were asked about it.
  • CIR enjoys widespread support across the target groups, and support builds when CIR is defined by specific policies. The research indicates that policies are paramount, and there is wider latitude in the choice of messages used to win support for CIR.
  • In all three demographic groups, the three most popular elements of CIR are, in order, the requirements to: 1) pay taxes, 2) pass a criminal background check, and 3) register with the government.
  • Even with the fluidity in commitment to CIR, there is support for reform across each of the groups from the outset, and support grows and is largely sustained as the debate is put into more contexts. At the outset (Q4), AAs show the lowest support for reform (51%), and Hispanics the highest (63%). Within each of these three target groups, the overall pattern of opinion stability is remarkably similar (and will be explored in much more detail in the next section of this report).
  • The group of voters who resist supporting CIR includes some of the most progressive, as indicated by their much stronger emphasis on the need for immigration policy to promote opportunity.
  • Respondents defined as “persuadable” were drawn to support CIR with a number of harder-line policy elements, but their reactions to more progressive messages is also generally positive.
  • Across several message pairings that tested two messages head-to-head, pitting a progressive message against an anti- reform message, the progressive message prevails.
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