This should answer the question of why Donald Trump resonates with the Republican base. Despite having criticized Mitt Romney for being too hardline on immigration in 2012, Trump has until very recently embraced the hardline positions — and those turn out to be very popular among GOP voters. A new poll from CNN shows that normalizing the illegals who have been living here gets 55% support from the general public, but 64% of Republicans prefer deportation:
The poll also finds Trump’s positions on immigration are at odds with those of most Americans, but may be providing him a boost in the Republican nomination contest. Overall, 56 percent say that U.S. policies on immigration should largely focus on developing a plan that would allow illegal immigrants with jobs to become legal residents, while 42 percent prioritize stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and deporting those already here. That’s a significant increase on the side of allowing immigrants living the U.S. illegally to become legal residents, up from 49 percent in February.
Among the majority who say U.S. policy should focus on a path to legal residency, 72 percent say they have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, that dips to 41 percent among those who think the focus ought to be on border security. …
The CNN/ORC poll reveals massive partisan divides in opinions on immigration, however, with Trump’s campaign capitalizing on the imbalance in his bid for the Republican nomination. Nearly three quarters of Democratic registered voters (72 percent) say the country’s immigration policies should focus on allowing immigrants in the country illegally to become legal residents, while just 38 percent of Republican registered voters agree.
This issue sharply divides Republican preferences in the race for the party’s nomination. Among those Republican registered voters who say that the focus of immigration policy should be helping illegal residents become legal ones, 19 percent back Jeb Bush for the party’s presidential nomination, 13 percent support Trump. Among those who say the focus should be border security and deportation, 23 percent support Trump, 13 percent Bush.
This is why snarky shots at Trump and his celebrity status don’t really address the reality of his attraction to the base. Certainly some of this is driven by the nativist-and-worse fringes of the political spectrum, but at 64%, the hardline position obviously appeals across a broad spectrum of the electorate, or at least in the superficial and odd construction of the question from CNN. The poll doesn’t ask about sequencing and it conflates border security with deportation, so the question is quite a bit tilted. The stark difference between Republicans and nearly every other demographic in the poll still cannot be entirely explained away by claims of push-polling.
The problem for those who want the 2016 cycle to be all about immigration is that they’re much more marginalized than this number shows — even among Republicans. The same poll puts immigration second-to-last among issues specified for the entire sample at 10%, barely edging out foreign policy (!) at 9%. The largest issue for voters in 2016 will be the economy — at 43%, almost doubling the runner-up, health care (22%).
But what about Republicans? Immigration actually comes in dead last among Republicans in this survey at 9%. The economy gets 44%, with terrorism a very distant second at 17%. Among self-identified conservative voters, it comes in … second-to-last, at 14%. Three times as many conservative voters cited the economy as the most important issue, 42%, and even health care manages to edge immigration at 16%. There are no demos in this poll where immigration scores more than 14% in the general public. Among registered voters, the numbers shift slightly but the ranking stays the same. Immigration simply isn’t a priority to anyone in this election, not even among non-white voters (13%, with 45% citing the economy).
Greg Sargent writes that the GOP/Dem divide on immigration reflects an “intractable divide” between voters in both parties:
Now, it’s certainly possible that GOP support for deportation is inflated somewhat by the inclusion of securing the border on that side of the question. But even when the question is framed a bit less starkly, as a recent Post/ABC News poll did, a majority of Republicans does not think the undocumented should be allowed to live and work here even if they pay a fine and meet other requirements. This should not obscure the fact that a substantial number of Republicans are, in fact, open to legalization; it’s just that more of them apparently aren’t.
And as such, what the CNN numbers again confirm is that there is a deep and intractable divide between the two parties on what to do about the undocumented population. This fundamental underlying difference matters far more than Donald Trump’s vicious rhetoric, which (assuming he doesn’t run as a third party candidate) will likely prove ephemeral.
Actually, what this poll shows is that while Republicans and Democrats have a wide gap on policy, there’s a large consensus that this isn’t the most pressing issue facing the US at the moment. Voters are probably tired of the rancor around this subject and would like to see it resolved in some manner, but they’re a lot more anxious about the economy than anything else — and that doesn’t bode well for the party that’s been in the White House for the last six-plus years.