Resurgent Republic launched its second installment of its Beyond the Ballot (BTB) research series finding that Republican primary voters strongly support legal immigration, view mass deportation of undocumented immigrants as impractical, find acceptable a process that allows for earned citizenship and is fair to those who are already legally in the system.
Resurgent Republic sponsored four focus groups on immigration reform with Republican primary voters in Des Moines, Iowa, and Greenville, South Carolina, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates (read our complete focus group analysis). The participants self-identified as conservatives and say they regularly vote in primaries.
“President Obama’s reelection victory, and Republicans’ shrinking support among non-white voters, has been a seminal moment for conservatives,” said Ed Gillespie, Resurgent Republic Board Member. “That is why we felt it important to qualitatively gauge Republican primary voters on this issue.”
The main conclusions from the four focus group discussions are:
1. These Republican base voters strongly support legal immigration. On this point, participants volunteer descriptors such as “freedom,” “opportunity,” “hard work,” and an ability “to make a better life for themselves.” Regardless of their individual positions on immigration reform, Republicans should open any discussion on this issue highlighting the benefits legal immigration brings to America.
2. Immigration reform is not on the radar of the Republican base. They are following this issue from a distance, so Republicans seeking to pass broad based immigration policies need to make the case as to why this is necessary. They were aware that Republicans like former Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio are leading figures on this issue and in regards to potential plans, one Des Moines woman noted: “I’d like to see what Marco Rubio comes up with. I trust him.” (The groups occurred prior to Senator Rand Paul’s immigration announcement on March 19, 2013).
3. Participants believe that mass deportation of undocumented immigrants creates more problems than it solves. They cite logistical, economic, moral, and social concerns with doing so.
4. Securing the border is foundational before implementing an earned citizenship process. It was new information to these Republican primary voters that 40 percent of the undocumented immigrants came to America legally but overstayed their visas.
5. A pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is acceptable to Republican primary voters if it is an earned process and fair to those already legally in the system. It was new information to all the participants that the timeline for an earned pathway is likely 10 years or more in the current policy discussions. Most participants were receptive once they heard the conditions, including border enforcement. “I’d welcome them,” said a Des Moines woman. In Greenville, a Republican man said, “I don’t think it’s the same as amnesty. We are putting them at the back of the line.”
6. Solutions addressing undocumented immigrants should be presented in the context of alternatives. There are no easy fixes and Republican voters oppose giving President Obama carte blanche authority on this issue.