June 19 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama is winning the opening round in the battle over immigration, according to a Bloomberg poll released today, putting Republicans on the defensive with his decision to end the deportations of some illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children,
Sixty-four percent of likely voters surveyed after Obama’s June 15 announcement said they agreed with the policy, while 30 percent said they disagreed. Independents backed the decision by better than a two-to-one margin.
The results underscore the challenge facing Mitt Romney and Republicans as they try to woo Hispanic voters, who are the nation’s largest ethnic minority and made up 9 percent of the 2008 electorate, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of exit polls. Obama won the Hispanic vote 67 to 31 percent over Republican John McCain in 2008, according to exit polls.
“In that Republican Party, there is a tolerance problem,” said Carmen Nieves, 27, of Albany, New York, who is of Puerto Rican heritage and participated in the Bloomberg June 15-18 survey.
“These are things that have to be done, and I’m expecting them to be done,” said Nieves. “I see a person who is doing his job.”
Obama, who has long backed legislation offering young immigrants a pathway to citizenship, announced a Department of Homeland Security directive forbidding the federal government from initiating the deportation of illegal immigrants under the age of 30 who came to the U.S. before age 16; have lived in the country for at least five years; have no criminal records; and are in school, high school graduates, or military veterans.
The decision left Republicans struggling to respond, trapped between alienating their political base and sending a negative signal to the Hispanic community and independent voters. A majority -- 56 percent -- of likely Republican voters opposed the decision, while almost nine in 10, or 86 percent, of Democrats supported it. Sixty-five percent of independents backed the policy change, while 26 percent disagreed.
Romney, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, has refused to say whether he would reverse the decision if he’s elected.
Yesterday, Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, dropped plans to introduce legislation that would grant work visas to some young people brought to the U.S. illegally. The president’s decision undercut momentum for Rubio’s plans, said Alex Conant, the senator’s spokesman.
The White House action angered the anti-immigration wing of the Republican Party. U.S. Congressman Steve King, an Iowa Republican, said he intends to sue Obama to suspend the directive. At a May 21 town-hall meeting, King compared immigrants to dogs, saying the government should select those to award legal status in the same way that owners choose the “pick of the litter.”
That’s the sort of reaction Obama’s team will seize on as it seeks to position the Republicans as being against young immigrants raised in the U.S. -- a position that could alienate swing voters whose life experiences counter that position.
“At first I was really against it, but after sitting down and thinking about it, a lot of kids here are good kids,” Loretta Price, 65, a retiree and undecided independent voter from Ocala, Florida, said in a follow-up interview. “I think it was the right thing to do.”
The poll showed that relatively few respondents surveyed consider immigration their top issue amid continued economic anxiety, with 4 percent of voters naming it as their leading concern.
Karis Verlander, 65, an independent from the suburbs of San Antonio, said while she agreed with Obama’s decision, she thought it was driven more by politics than core beliefs. Verlander doesn’t plan to vote for Obama, saying she’s unhappy with the economy.
“He’s just playing politics with this issue,” she said. “He doesn’t really care.”
The Bloomberg National Poll, conducted by Des Moines, Iowa-based polling firm Selzer & Co., has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points for the 734 likely voters contacted.
Obama campaign officials, who deny political motivation for the action, are counting on it to solidify support among Hispanic voters, giving the president an edge in what could be a close race. Democrats were quick to highlight Romney’s June 17 interview on CBS “Face the Nation,” during which he declined on four occasions to say whether he’d reverse course on the policy.
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