Anatomy of a Misleading Immigration Poll, Pt. 2

By Stanley Renshon on February 10, 2014

Read Pt. 1

The Public Religion Research Institute, which published a report on immigration that gained some national attention, presents itself as nonpartisan. Perhaps they are. However, their "fact sheet" is a misnomer, as can be easily discerned if you actually look into the survey itself.

As is often the case, the reporting of their survey across the political spectrum has been superficial and, in that respect, misleading. PRRI's immigration poll actually said more, and less, than was reported.

The New York Times and NBC did what busy generalists often do; they wrote from the report's "fact sheets" and executive summaries. They report what they think is the news, reflected in a single finding, without taking the necessary time to see whether it is accurate.

Had the New York Times, NBC, and even the organization (PRRI) that sponsored and wrote the report spent five minutes looking at the questions that the report was based upon, they would have never made the claims they did.

The actual survey question used the phase "providing they meet certain requirements" in asking about support for providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal migrants. What that phase means is unclear.

We can safely assume that it means that illegal migrants will be required to incur some penalty as part of balancing any grant of legalization. But which ones? We don't know.

What we do know from the poll report is that when specific requirements are mentioned — passing background checks, paying back taxes, and learning English, support goes up for a pathway to citizenship, especially among Republicans (p.7).

The only problem with these "requirements" is that they are, at present, advocates' talking points rather than real prerequisites. Several senators have already made clear that having illegal migrants paying back taxes is not going to really happen. And the requirement to "learn English" presently means enrolling in an language class, at some point after legalization has been granted. And those background checks depend on what will be included: all crimes or only major felony convictions?

So the poll's questions on specific "requirements" are really just about conceptual formulations that in one case have already been declared inoperative, in another less than meets the presumption, and in the third depends on what is included, which has not as yet been agreed to.

Respondents are basing their approval on possible conditions, not legislative prerequisites, and at least one of these, paying back taxes, is simply not going to happen.

And of course, none of those who simply reported what they thought was the major "take away" of the poll looked into or reported these issues.

However, that is not the only or even the major problem with the poll, as reported.

Next: Anatomy of a Misleading Immigration Poll, Pt. 3