Sunday, July 28, 2013

Immigratin Misdirection

The debate over comprehensive immigration reform is proving a bonanza for biased polls (and, even if not, it gives me an opportunity to type "bonanza" for the first time).   On July 9, Public Policy Polling released results of a survey, one of which questions actually asked

Do you support or oppose an immigration reform plan that ensures undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. pay a penalty, learn English, pass a criminal background check, pay taxes, and wait a minimum of thirteen years before they can be eligible for citizenship?

Mickey Kaus argues the penalty can be waived; immigrants need not learn English but only enroll in a course; resources are inadequate for genuine background checks; back taxes must be paid only if the IRS already had assessed the taxes. Byron York notes that most agricultural workers and some beneficiaries of the Dream Act would not have to wait a full thirteen years to be eligible for citizenship.

PPP might have compared results had it asked a similarly unbalanced question:  "Do you support or oppose an immigration scheme that allows individuals who have entered the country illegally to be given priority over those who have been admitted legally?  Neither would have been very enlightening about public sentiment toward immigration but at least would have dramatized the importance of strategic wording to elicit the desired response.

It seems this was not an isolated poll.  Comes now a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey asking

Thinking about immigration…If Congress is unable to come to agreement on an immigration bill before the end of its current term who do you think will be most to blame -- (RANDOMIZE) the Republicans in Congress, the Democrats in Congress, or President Obama?

This was not preceded by a question asking respondents if they believe Congress should come to an agreement on an immigration bill, let alone whether they approve of the one being considered by Congress. It was not preceded by any question about immigration, instead prompted by an assumption that respondents of course supported the pending immigration bill.  After all, who wouldn't be?

The results:  44% blame "the Republicans in Congress," 14% "the Democrats in Congress," 21% "President Obama," 11% "all equally to blame," and 10% were "not sure."   By now, you're probably wondering: who are these 35% (over one-third!) who would blame Democrats- and can I sell them that proverbial beachfront property in Arizona?  Except they probably are not- couldn't be- so misinformed, but rather probably are opponents of comprehensive immigration reform who rightly blame Democrats for pushing it.

That would be akin to a protest vote- but we'll never know because the question was so thoroughly misguided.  It may be unsurprising in a poll co-sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, whose editors came out in favor of the legislation approved by the Senate, recommending

if the House doesn't want to take up the entire bill that recently passed the Senate, it can still consider and pass the parts that are pro-growth and that most Republicans support.

These include a provision to allow foreign graduates of U.S. schools with science, math and technology degrees to stay in America if they have a job offer. Even Mitt Romney supported this one. Another provision would double the number of H-1B visas for skilled immigrants, while a third would allow visas to those who will start businesses and invest in America.

And in case readers aren't convinced of the WSJ's motives, the editors recommended "opening more paths for legal immigrants to meet U.S. labor demand."  So the next time you meet a college graduate who is unemployed, working part-time, serving a paid or unpaid internship, or cheerily exclaiming "welcome to WalMart," remember to tell her how lazy she must be because the Wall Street Journal says we need more workers because there are too many jobs around.

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