Nearly all of the polls allegedly showing public support for amnesty suffer from the same defect: they are designed to "push" respondents towards a certain answer. In other words, they are written in a way designed to elicit a pro-amnesty result with the use of tired pro-amnesty talking points that are meant to make the "pro-enforcement" option seem less attractive.
The latest flawed poll comes from Fox News, and many other pro-amnesty news outlets have jumped to report the results. Conducted January 19-21, the poll alleges that 68 percent of registered voters support amnesty (specifically, option 3 below). But a closer look at the way the options are worded suggests that the poll was designed to advance a pro-amnesty agenda, rather than to measure public opinion on legalizing illegal aliens and doubling legal immigration.
The question and available responses are worded as follows:
Which of the following comes closest to your view about what government policy should be toward illegal immigrants currently in the United States? Should the government ...
1) Send all illegal immigrants back to their home country
2) Have a guest worker program that allows immigrants to remain in the United States to work, but only for a limited amount of time
3) Allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship, but only if they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check
4) Don't know
The pollsters found that 15 percent support option 1, while only 13 percent support option 2, and 68 percent support option 3. Three percent answered "Don't know".
Of the answer options, the poll really attempts to frame illegal immigration as a choice between Option 1 (enforcement) and option 3 (amnesty). The guestworker option and the "Don't Know" option received the least support. Of course, even the guestworker response is flawed in that it explains guestworkers will only remain in the country "for a limited time" when, in reality, there is nothing more permanent than a temporary guestworker.
The first option, which might be described as the pro-enforcement option, is a nine-word-long response: "Send all illegal immigrants back to their home country." It's simple, straightforward, and does not leave anything to the imagination. But it also may come across as harsh and lacking enough nuance to some respondents. If you are a pollster that does not want respondents to pick option 1, such attributes are a good thing.
Option 3, the pro-legalization option, is quite different. If the pollster were interested in it paralleling option 1, it would been shortened to read, "Allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country." The rest of the response would have been eliminated. That would make the answer choice just as straightforward as option 1, it would be similar in length, and it would have had a similar lack of nuance.
Instead, option 3 is 32 words long — over three times the length of the pro-enforcement option — and includes squishy language that lets the respondent fill in the blanks with whatever he can imagine, allowing him to eliminate any perceived harshness or lack of nuance. It also includes references to popular ideas (like paying back taxes and learning English, even though those provisions are not in the Senate amnesty bill). This construction ultimately makes the pro-legalization option appear to be "the right choice".
The pro-legalization response includes two very problematic open-ended clauses, and most polls purporting to show wide public support for amnesty suffer from similar defects. The phrase "eventually qualify" could mean anything, and each respondent will assume what he feels is best, making the answer choice more palatable. Some respondents might hear that phrase and assume one year, while others might assume 15 years. If the pollsters were to include an estimate, it might have a significant impact on the poll results. Without specificity, there is no way to determine what the respondents were thinking.
The second problematic clause is "meet certain requirements". The poll gives the two examples that have never existed in any amnesty proposal ("pay back taxes" and "learn English"), but the wording leaves it to the respondent to imagine any type of "requirement" that he needs to justify the idea of legalizing illegal aliens. Again, this makes the response very attractive. Some respondents may think, "Yes, I'd support legalization but only if one of those requirements is proving that the person has never stolen someone's Social Security number for a job." Obviously, that would disqualify millions of illegal aliens. Another respondent might think, "Yes, but only if one of those requirements is paying $100,000 to legalize." Again, that's never going to happen in the real world. The point is that even though the results are being sold as indicating public support for the Senate amnesty bill, in actuality the poll may indicate something quite different.
And why not some nuance in the first option? Instead of the simplistic "Send all illegal immigrants back to their home country", why not "Send all illegal immigrants back to their home country if they have engaged in ID fraud, have used a stolen Social Security number to obtain work, or are likely to end up on public assistance"? It would be similar in length to the pro-legalization option. And it would make respondents think about the issue a little more and likely discourage some from choosing the pro-legalization option, fearing that support for legalization would indicate support for ID theft. Obviously this is problematic for pollsters creating a push poll.
It seems that amnesty advocates and their pollsters cannot ask straightforward questions. They know that if they were to do so, public sentiment against doubling legal immigration and legalizing illegal aliens would become obvious. So they resort to writing the same push polls with problematic wording over and over and over.
A good poll — like this one, conducted by the Center for Immigration Studies — keeps the language simple and looks at the immigration issue from a variety of angles. Polling of this nature indicates the public supports enforcement over legalization and believes the government is not doing enough to enforce immigration laws, among other things.
Honest pollsters would also ask whether citizens want to double legal immigration, which is the main thrust of the Senate bill. But it is quite telling that of the dozens and dozens of pro-legalization polls conducted over the past two years, next to none of them inquire about public opinion on the current level of legal immigration. These pollsters know that if it were revealed that a majority of the public wants less legal immigration it would conflict with the pollster's claims that Americans support the Senate bill. So pollsters stick to the same tendentious language.
If legalizing illegal aliens were so popular, politicians would be happy to push an amnesty during an election year. Really, these pro-amnesty polls are written for the very purpose of persuading politicians that the average voter wants amnesty and mass immigration. But politicians know that the idea is wildly unpopular — and that these polls are inaccurate — which is why they are largely avoiding the issue in 2014.
Interestingly, the Fox News poll also found that only 2 percent of respondents listed "immigration" as the most important issue for President Obama and Congress to be working on right now. This was behind the economy and jobs, the federal deficit, health care, terrorism, and Social Security. Predictably, the generally pro-amnesty media is not making that the headline.