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Poll: Majority of Nevadans supports immigration reform, wants Congress to act

Immigration decisions could play big role in reelection bid for Heck, other politicians


Steve Marcus

A sea of marchers head southbound on Las Vegas Boulevard during a May Day rally and march for comprehensive immigration reform in downtown Las Vegas Wednesday, May 1, 2013. The event started at the George Federal Building downtown, then marchers traveled south to a rally at St. Louis Square near the Stratosphere.

A new poll released Thursday shows a majority of Nevadans supports the basics of the immigration reform proposal currently under debate in U.S. Senate, and an overwhelming majority feels politicians must address the issue this year.

Overall 64 percent of voting-age Nevadans polled said they either "strongly support" or "somewhat support" a bill that would "secure our borders, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, make sure that undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with no criminal record register for legal status" and offer eventual eligibility for citizenship.

A second question that asked respondents if they backed an "immigration reform plan that ensures undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. pay a penalty, learn English, pass a criminal background check, pay taxes, and wait a minimum of thirteen years before they can be eligible for citizenship" garnered at least partial support from 71 percent of those polled.

Interestingly, while 51 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats polled supported reform as defined in the first question, 76 percent of Republicans and just 67 percent of Democrats supported the second version.

The difference may be in the details of the two questions. Democratic support waned when the 13-year path to citizenship was mentioned

"That's a pretty long time to wait in some people's minds," said UNLV political scientist David Damore. "The difference in responses for those two questions is probably based on partisan reasons. Republicans may be saying, if we have to swallow this, let's make it as difficult as possible."

Laura Martin, communications director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, agreed, saying some progressives believe the bill sets out too many stipulations and too long of a wait to access the citizenship process.

A recent Latino Decisions poll found that Latino voters in particular support a shorter path, with 86 percent favoring a five-year wait before eligibility to apply for citizenship.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted in May found a majority supported reform, but there was little agreement on what specific changes should be made in policy. The survey found 75 percent of Americans believe reform was needed, but less than half, 44 percent, were in support of a path to citizenship

The poll of Nevadans released Thursday was commissioned by the Alliance for Citizenship, Partnership for a New American Economy, and Republicans for Immigration Reform.

The poll was conducted by Harper Polling, a firm that launched after the 2012 election and focuses on interactive voice-response polling, commonly referred to as "robo-polling."

In all, Harper Polling surveyed in 29 states, but only the results of polling in Nevada were provided to the Sun in advance. In Nevada, 678 people were polled from June 3-5: 54 percent were female, 74 percent were white, 8 percent black and 9 percent Hispanic, 44 percent identified as Democrat, 33 percent Republican and 23 percent as independent or a different political party.

At 2012 election time, 41 percent of active voters in Nevada identified as Democrats and 35 percent as Republicans, according to the secretary of state. In Nevada, the Hispanic share of the electorate rose to 18 percent in 2012, up from 10 percent in 2008 and 8 percent in 2004, according to Pew Research Center. Nationwide, the Hispanic proportion of the electorate increased from 8 percent in 2004 to 10 percent in 2012.

The Harper poll found 91 percent of Nevadans though it was "very important" or "somewhat important" to fix the immigration system this year.

Politicians on the fence, and facing re-election soon, are completing careful calculations on what a yes or no vote on immigration reform will mean for their constituents and their prospects for the future.

"There has been consistent momentum since the election for reform, and you see a sense from Congress that this allows them to demonstrate they can do something as and institution, which they haven’t been able to do in four years," Damore said. "Reform has popular support, even though you’ll find disputes among the various provisions. Republicans won't get much bang among Latino voters, but it stops the bleeding."

Hispanic voter turnout still lags behind that of blacks and whites. In 2012, 48 percent of Hispanic eligible voters voted, down from 50 percent in 2008, according to Pew Research Center. For comparison, the 2012 voter turnout rate among blacks was 66.6 percent and 64 percent among whites.

While Hispanics are 17 percent of the total U.S. population, they make up 24 percent of the U.S. under-18 population.

"Despite the low turnout rates for Hispanics, their high share of the under 18 population of the U.S. means that, by dint of generational replacement, they will become a more important voting bloc in future elections," Pew Research Center analysts Paul Taylor and Mark Hugo Lopez wrote in a review of 2012 election numbers.

A Latino Decisions poll released last week found that Hispanic voters were closely watching how Congress was handling the reform debate and vote. The poll of registered voters found 80 percent are following the news and progress on the immigration reform bill, and 78 percent say its "extremely important" for Congress to pass a bill with a path to citizenship this year.

While the Democrats in Nevada's delegation, Repd. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford, plus Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have been vocal supporters of the reform effort, the GOP contingent, Sen. Dean Heller, and Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, have not indicated how they would vote on the legislation currently being debated in the Senate.

Last week, Heck and Amodei voted for an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that would strip out funding for the deferred action for childhood arrivals program. The vote was regarded as a symbolic move, as the amendment will likely be rejected in the Senate. However, immigration reform advocates were highly critical of the move. State Sen. Ruben Kihuen publicly criticized Heck for the vote in a news conference Monday.

Heck's district holds 7,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, and missteps on immigration reform could be costly.

"Joe Heck is in one of the 10 or 15 districts in the country where Latino voters could be difference makers in (the next election)," Damore said.

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