Immigration Poll Calls Bluff on Americans

By The News May 25, 2007

Do polls that claim to represent "the American people" on complex issues for which there is no one American viewpoint actually tell us anything useful? The New York Times today reported that the majority of Americans support measures that make up the latest immigration bill being debated by the Senate right now. The bi-partisan bill will extend fencing between U.S. and Mexico and employ an additional 18,000 border patrol people; make legalization based on English proficiency and education and not so much family ties; install a permanent under-class through an expanded guest-worker program; and provide a legalization pathway for America’s 12 million illegal immigrants through a winding system of fines and displacements back to immigrants’ homelands. The Times/CBS poll reported:

Taking a pragmatic view on a divisive issue, a large majority of Americans want to change the immigration laws to allow illegal immigrants to gain legal status and to create a new guest worker program to meet future labor demands, the poll found. At the same time, Americans have mixed feelings about whether the recent wave of immigration has been beneficial to the country, the survey found, and they are sharply divided over how open the United States should be to future immigrants… The nationwide telephone poll did not ask respondents about the immigration bill itself, but there were questions about its most significant provisions. It was conducted May 18 to 23 with 1,125 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

While I don’t question the statistical legitimacy of the Times’ poll, I do the use of making polls for the sake of writing a poll story that doesn’t get at the heart of how different groups, shaped by their race, class, gender, and politics, may feel differently about different parts of the bill. These type of stories only act as filler and actually miseducate people on a very important debate. If we want to know how Americans feel about the immigration bill or even parts of it, let’s get a show of hands of how many have read about the bill and feel actively engaged in its development. Now those numbers would be something to talk about.