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Large Majority Supports Path to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants in New Poll

It’s not hard to see why Democrats and the White House plan a second-term push on immigration reform. First of all, the demographic shifts of the electorate demand that they continue to extract a price from Republicans for their antipathy to Hispanics. Second, for the same demographic reasons, the prospect of up to 12 million new Democratic voters by offering a path to citizenship to those in the country already is quite attractive. And third, the public broadly supports a path to citizenship.

Most Americans support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, an issue that may be high on the agenda of newly re-elected President Obama and the 113th Congress, given the increased importance of nonwhites – including Hispanic voters – in the nation’s political equation.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans in this survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, with 39 percent opposed. That’s virtually identical to results of a similar question last asked in mid-2010, with support up from its earlier levels, as low as 49 percent in late 2007 […]

In this survey, support for a path to citizenship peaks at 82 percent among Hispanics, 71 percent among Democrats and liberals alike and 69 percent among young adults, all key Obama groups. Support’s at 68 percent among nonwhites overall, compared with 51 percent among non-Hispanic whites. Obama lost white voters by 20 points last week, but won nonwhites — who accounted for a record 28 percent of the electorate – by 61 points. It was a record racial gap.

I can’t find any toplines for the poll, but given the numbers provided, it assumes something like 35-40% support for a path to citizenship among Republicans. Independent support for a path to citizenship nears the level of Democrats. And majority support among non-Hispanic whites is obviously critical. Even “somewhat conservatives” support a path to citizenship, with 52% in favor. This is all before any explanation of the economic benefits of immigration reform, including the impact on the budget (putting up to 12 million workers on the payroll and inside the income tax system would be a net benefit).

These are hard numbers for a marginalized GOP to stomach. They seem to know that they have little recourse but to engage on the issue and try to minimize the policy response as best they can. The base of their party, however, will be furious, and that probably will temper support in Congress. Comprehensive reform, despite these numbers, remains a long shot. But Democratic exploitation of the issue headed into the midterms is virtually assured.

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David Dayen

David Dayen