Here’s what happens when you poll people on a complex, emotional issue the vagaries of which they know little about. Try to square this circle:

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That’s from the Times’s new poll. Tough choices: reward eager, hardworking immigrants by letting them live the American dream or kick these lawbreakers to the curb with some old-school U.S. justice? Just keep asking the same questions with slightly different phrasing. Eventually you’ll get the answer you want.

For instance, here are three different shots at the same basic idea — should we grant amnesty to illegals who have come here to work or not? The first question tracks the basic provisions of the bill (except that the guest worker program in the bill does not allow for eventual legalization), but note what the Times does. Whereas question 63 only asks about a four-year visa, question 64 suddenly switches to full U.S. citizenship with no “no citizenship” option.

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Here’s the second variation. Again, you’ve got a large majority approving of a temporary guest worker program, but now when they present the legalization option to them squarely in the follow up, what happens?

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In other words, only 37% overall approve of a citizenship track for guest workers as opposed to 55% who either oppose a guest worker program entirely or insist that workers go home at the end of their term. (Or is it the temporariness of the program that those 30% in question 69 oppose? It’s not clear.) That doesn’t directly contradict question 61 screencapped at the top of this post, but there is tension between the two. If we’re unwilling to let guest workers who’ve lived here for a few years assume legal status, why let non-guest-worker illegals who have lived here for more than two years enjoy that privilege?

And the third variation. This is the same question, basically, as number 64 above, but there’s an extra 10 points in the second column here. Why? Probably because question 64 imagined a $5K fine, having to pass a background check, and assorted other penalties and here it’s implied that there’d be no penalties at all.

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Taking all the results thus far together, we find that Americans are willing to grant legal status to illegal aliens so long as they’re not here as part of a duly enacted guest-worker program, and only if we also get to prosecute them. Super.

Here’s a smattering of other results touching on aspects of enforcement. You’ll see from the first question that most people support the new merit-based “points system” that Teddy Kennedy’s already secretly eviscerated. The other results speak for themselves.

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45% also say the threat of terrorism has increased from illegal immigration (50% say it hasn’t changed). There are 40 immigration questions in all, so click and start on page 23 if you’re hungry for more.

Meanwhile, Kaus’s righteous fury at the impending amnesty is leading him towards Sullivanesque conspiracy fantasias. Easy, Mickey. Make the rage productive.