Panel Transcript: Immigration Key Issue in Contested Races

By Steven A. Camarota and Kellyanne Conway on October 16, 2006

Related: The Public’s View of Immigration, Press Release


Steven Camarota, Director of Research, Center for Immigration Studies
Kellyanne Conway, President and CEO, The Polling CompanyTM

STEVEN CAMAROTA: My name is Steve Camarota. I am Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies. We sponsored the poll that’s being released today. The survey itself was done by the polling company. It includes a national sample of 1,000 likely voters, and then it also did detailed sampling of four contested Senate races and 10 contested House of Representative races. All of the results that we’re going to talk about today, including those results we didn’t mention, are available at our website, every question, every question wording, and all the detailed demographic breakdowns, many more than you can possibly every want to have, but they’re all there and they are available at our website, for all the battleground states and for the national poll.

Now, to discuss the findings, to my right is Kellyanne Conway. She is president and CEO of the polling company, and in 2004 she received the Washington Post’s Crystal Ball Award for being the most accurate predictor of the 2004 election. She also of course appears frequently on news, including cable news channels like CNN and Fox News, MSNBC and so forth, and she is a frequent commentator on polls and polling and the national mood.

So with that I’d like to turn it over to Kellyanne to talk about the overall results.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Thank you very much, Steven, and thank you all for being here. My name is Kellyanne Conway. My email is [email protected], (202) 667-6557 if you have any follow-ups. This will also be on our website, and I commend to you my colleague, Shelley West, who is also here and can help you with any questions as well.

Before I begin with a summary of the findings, I would like to tell you that tremendous care was taken into constructing this questionnaire. It took the better part of six to eight weeks because what we tried to do first was do an audit of publicly available information with respect to public opinion, impression, frustration, expectation on the matter of immigration. And we recognized that this issue has been a subject for the polls for quite a while now, at least the better part of 2006.

In so doing, the construction of the questionnaire was meant not so much to replicate the body of evidence that already exists, but to find out if there was anything missing from the discussion. And when one turns on talk radio or listens to both sides of the debate on any random cable television program, or you really listen to what’s being discussed in the heartland, sometimes it’s very different from what’s being uttered over steak dinners in the halls of Congress or over the golf courses here inside the Beltway, and we tried to reflect that as well.

I think the poll is very distinctive in that you will see, rather than just ask people, “Do you support or oppose,” “Approve or disapprove” – feel-good phraseology – it tries to provide competitive choices, allowing people a range of options from which to choose the one that they think best explains their own positions or would be the best advice they would give their representatives, or the candidates running for those seats this time in 2006. You will see a person-one, person-two series. Those tried to give comparably balanced viewpoints from two sides, and in some cases there or four different policy prescriptions, and then ask people to make a choice, so that you don’t see the 85, 90 percent agree with one, 5 percent disagree with the other – [we] tried to not put in feel-good phraseology so much as to reflect and give immigration its due because it is a serious debate that’s worthy of an informed electorate, and option of course must be a predicate – must be preceded by knowledge.

These neutral questions prompt strong opinions throughout the survey. You see that there is a very low number of people saying, “I don’t know,” or, “I have no response.” That’s fairly unusual when you’re talking about any policy in Washington. You see particularly an array of policy prescription choices. You generally have a number of people saying, “I don’t know,” but this survey is devoid of a couple of words that you will see in other surveys, particularly on pro-immigration reform surveys. We never have the phrase “illegal aliens.” We don’t have the phrase “undocumented.” We don’t have the phrase “amnesty.” We just wanted it to be very straightforward.

When presented with the facts – and Shelley will help me with the slides here – we have about – again, there were 30 substantive questions, but we’ve highlighted a few for you here, and you’re welcome to see all of them on the website.

To tee it up electorally, why we think some of these survey results are very important – Steven will go over the statewide and congressional district results; I’ll go over the national results now – but you’ll see that for 53 percent of the electorate, they say it’s either a the top issue, 9 percent, or one of their top three issues. Immigration has never had this kind of primacy in previous elections. It simply is a case of first impression for immigration, and I think this is just reflective of the discussion that’s going on in this country and some of the protests and some of the responses, what we’ve seen on the borders in Arizona and Texas and the like.

Then you had 8 percent – you have comparable numbers saying, it’s my most important issue and it’s not important to me at all. But 8 percent saying it’s not important at all, I think this survey result is very telling because often when we look at public opinion, we’re persuaded that people only care about one issue or two issues, and we know – and we asked in this poll, what would be your most important issue apart from this question, and immigration was tied with education and, I believe, healthcare benefits for – in double-digit responses. But of course they were superseded by the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and the economy. Those issues, war and economy, still loom large. But for many people, their positions on that are very fixed, and the candidates’ positions on that are fixed. You’d be hard-pressed to find candidates who are running almost anywhere who aren’t talking about the war on terror or in Iraq or the economy, but many of them have punted on immigration, on both sides of the aisle, and the point we’re making here is the voters of this country do not push aside their own sentiments and their demands for action based on a political calendar.

When presented with facts, voters say they want less, not more immigration, and in fact, this is one of those really rare instances where you find tri-partisan support – Republicans, Democrats and independents agreeing on something.

This is what we read. This comes directly from the Yearbook of Immigration statistics. All the sourcing for all the facts is also on the website or available to you otherwise through us or through Steven. But just reading these facts and little Goldilocks question, only 2 percent of the people surveyed across the country believe that these immigration levels are two low. You do have one in five saying they’re just about right, but over two thirds saying that these are too high when they’re confronted with the numbers.

It really didn’t take – actually it didn’t take fancy turns of phrase on our plate of figures to lead you to this conclusion; it’s just the facts. And of course this is a very good example of how we tried to introduce a third way. Much of the polling that’s been done on the issue of what is the right policy prescription [ought to be] basically says, “Do you want deportation or do you want earned legalization?” We introduced a third view, which is the one that ends up having a plurality response at 44 percent: A policy that, quote, “strictly enforces immigration laws and calls on illegal immigrants to go home over time.” And we find that when you add that third way, that’s actually the policy prescription that has the most support. I think this is a very realistic, current way of posing this question, given the fact that there is really no serious discussion of mass roundup and full-scale immediate deportation going on in the chambers at this point.

But when only the two dramatic polls – earned legalization and large-scale roundup and deportation – are presented, of course those numbers increase because people aren’t given a third option. When they’re given a third option here, they go for enforcement. I think it’s also very key here . . . it’s the first that you see in a series of questions and results throughout the national survey where people are saying attrition through enforcement, attrition through enforcement. Those are really the three big words coming out of this particular survey.

Now, you may be saying, oh, wow, these are so long – person one, person two. Do people really listen to those? Yes, and they cost more than just saying, “Do you approve or disapprove of amnesty?” or “Do you approve or disapprove of deportation?” I think that’s unfair to ask people questions like that, maybe not biased but unfair because it’s incomplete. And some survey questions are flawed, not because they are overly biased or loaded with phraseology of some type, but because they are incomplete. They don’t reveal all of the complete facts and implications of a particular policy.

So here we have the competing viewpoints. Person one says, “Look, the government has not tried hard enough to enforce the laws”; in person two it says, “Well, they haven’t tried hard enough because you just simply can’t and here’s what we should do about it.” But you see, it’s not even close. It’s a three-to-one margin in terms of those who say the government hasn’t tried to close in on it.

Now, I find the cross-tabs to the first point absolutely fascinating because you find self-identified conservatives, self-identified Republicans, and people who say that they intend to vote for a Republican candidate this year, in 2006, even more inclined – over and above the 69 percent – to say that they favor having the government enforce the immigration laws. Why do I find that fascinating? Because, you know, conservatives and Republicans are usually those who say “I want less government; not more.” But on the matter of immigration, they really part company with that orthodoxy. And you see that again and again.

In this survey, quite remarkably, there is very little so-called gender gap, and I’ll address that in a minute or so, but there was a huge partisan divide. Where you find the biggest divide is not on age, not even on race, not on socioeconomic status, but you found the greatest divides based on party, and again and again you find Republicans and conservatives saying the government needs to do more on immigration, not less.

We tested four different plans. We tested immediate deportation plan, we tested the fence plan, we tested the House plan, and we tested the Senate plan. We tested them each separately and then in another question we placed all four together and asked people to assess each of them and then tell us among the four, how do you rate – and this is a very good example of how you want to test things in a vacuum bit by bit, but then nobody makes decisions in a vacuum; nobody goes into the ballot box and says, “I’m only thinking of this, thumb up in the air or down in the air?” Instead they will really try to assess and measure and balance four competing choices from which to make an option ultimately.

And here we tested this one first. This one is the strengthen America’s borders, getting employers involved, which is a big deal to people. It is making business much more accountable in the entire immigration debate. And then increasing enforcement by local authorities to encourage illegal immigrants to return to their home – not to force them but to encourage them to return to their home countries, and this gets two-thirds support with split intensity. Thirty-four percent would be the strongly; 33 percent the somewhat-split intensity.

I just want to show you all four plans that were tested. This one is essentially the United States Senate plan – background checks, passive citizenship, but here is something the Senate – it’s not . . . I think it’s not a coincidence, and that most people in the Senate never mention the last part of this — was that it would also double future legal – legal immigration from 1 to 2 million, as well as significantly increase enforcement of immigration laws.

So we acknowledge that it would increase enforcement of immigration laws, but it’s also going to increase legal immigration, and it’s funny that that’s not in much of the soundbites that you hear from some of these United States Senate candidates. There are some people of course who were even in favor of this. But when full disclosure of the facts and figures is revealed, you see what the results are. The immigration plan passed by the U.S. House is by far the favorite. Enforcement without an earned legalization or increase in legal immigration is clearly the public’s choice.

Now, the other thing that you don’t have there that I wanted to review with you is that there’s tremendous skepticism for this phrase that the president himself uses quite often, which is that immigrants are here to do the jobs that Americans don’t want. We asked that question very squarely, and voters are very skeptical about the need for unskilled immigrant labor. In fact, they believe – 70 percent agree that, quote, “There are plenty of Americans to do low-wage jobs that require relatively little education. Employers just need to pay them better, higher wages, and treat them better as workers to attract Americans into those jobs.” So I think it’s a real rejection of a somewhat elitist viewpoint that there are Americans here who don’t want to do the jobs so we should replace them immediately with folks, many of whom come here illegally, certainly.

But you should also be aware that in the question, there’s very little support for increasing legal immigration. This was another place where tri-partisan support really existed. Eight percent said that currently immigration figures were too low – 8 percent – which means the Democrats, Republicans, and independents all agreed, were all part of the 70 percent who said that they would be for a candidate who supported . . . they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported doubling legal immigration.

This doesn’t mean that people want to put this dramatic wall up across the borders. We don’t ask questions like that. But it really does mean that if you listen to people qualitatively in focus groups, you get the sense immediately that they just want to wrest control of the situation. They just want – maybe not a timeout but certainly a deep breath to wrest control of the situation, come up with a policy, perhaps enforcing current laws, perhaps taking it a little bit further and getting business more involved, and changing the current dynamic.

A couple things from the cross-tabs I also wanted to mention is traditionally Democratic voters, including minorities, low-wage workers, and low-skilled workers departed company with the democratic orthodoxy. Even when they agreed more with the Democrats than the Republican view on immigration, they really split away from some of these other Democratic constituencies because I guess they recognize that they are – their lives and their livelihood are most apt to be directly affected by some of these current dynamics.

The other thing I wanted to point out from the cross-tabs is that – I intimated earlier this is one issue where there is not a serious difference in gender. I think that I first noticed this in about 2003 when we were focus-grouping for a client, a different client, and we had gone to the same cities, the same states and cities, three years earlier in 2000 for the presidential and House and Senate elections that year. And the women in 2000 in the focus groups in Arizona, in Colorado, in Texas, and in North Carolina were very much more of the mind of, “Oh, aren’t we all immigrants anyway, and I feel sorry for the children; who’s going to take care of them?” – and on and on and on. It was real gender divide qualitatively and you saw it reflected in some of the polling. Fast-forward three years after that, and now we’re three years past that, and you’ve just started to see women in those areas complain that they’d waited three hours instead of 30 minutes in an emergency room with their children, that they believe there was a depletion of resources, whether it was crowded classrooms or congested highways or ATMs in different languages, and this has started to show up empirically in the survey data as well, that there is far less of a gender divide than you will see on a lot of other issues.

So to wrap up – and then I’ll turn it over to Steven to reveal the four statewide battleground poll results and the 10 congressional districts, and then certainly take your questions – the importance of all this is that I think that some candidates who ignore the immigration issue over the next three weeks do so at their peril. If they just turned on talk radio, if they just listened to the average debate over a cappuccino counter or over a lunch table or around the kitchen table in the heartland, they would understand that even though they shelved any type of significant action on immigration this year, that voters have not done the same with their sentiments about immigration, and in very tightly contested elections in what we all know is a pretty split electorate in many districts, and certainly nationwide, immigration can tip the balance because unlike your view on the war, on terror, or Iraq, or the economy and jobs, one’s viewpoint on immigration is not necessarily being articulated by either candidate in these contested elections, but that does not mean that voters will not take their sentiments directly to the ballot box.

Thank you.

MR. CAMAROTA: Well, thank you, Kellyanne.

Before I open it up to questions I would like to just talk a little bit about the results from the battleground states and districts. Kellyanne I think did a very good job of hitting the high points of the national survey, but again, I should also point out that every single thing that we’re talking about today, and all the things we’re not talking about, are all available at our website – every result, every question, every question wording, every detail, demographic work, and that’s, again, – C-I-S, like Center for Immigration Studies, abbreviated.

I think overall what you see in the battleground states is remarkable consistency with the national results. I think it’s striking, even though the states are all over the place. We surveyed Missouri; we did Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Montana. Some geographic diversity or significant geographic diversity in the Senate races, and in the House races we did one in Louisiana, we did one in Colorado, we did one in Arizona, but we also did one in Connecticut, we did on in Pennsylvania, we did one in Kentucky, and so forth – one in Ohio, one in Indiana. So a lot of geographic diversity, but surprising agreement across the board.

First, as Kellyanne has mentioned, immigration is a national issue. In fact, in three congressional districts, when asked an open-ended question about, you know, what’s your most important issue, you were given a list to choose from. In the Arizona Fifth, the Texas 17th, and the Colorado 7th, immigration came up as number one. In the Montana Senate race it also came up as number one. Nationally about 8 percent of voters said immigration was not at all important to how they were voting, or their voting decisions, and nationally in the battleground states and districts it was about 10 percent.

Now, some of these results I’m going to give you are the aggregate totals for the battlegrounds. Again, we can talk about it in the question and answer period for specific races, but if you take all 14 races, put the totals together . . . I’m going to talk a little about those results, but keep in mind that there were not many districts that we would call outliers, where the voters gave very different responses – almost none.

On the importance question, the one outlier I should say was the Connecticut district – Christopher Shay’s district. That was the only one where 17 percent of voters, but only 17, said immigration was not important at all.

Kellyanne touched on this question, and I would like to give you the results in the local races as well. The public does not think it is impossible to enforce current laws, and they do not accept the idea that people come illegally because we just don’t let enough people in legally. Again, we did that – and you saw it up there, the person one, person two [sample]. And again, let me remind you it was person one – and these were rotated, I should say; sometimes they were asked first and sometimes second. “The United States has not tried hard enough to enforce its immigration laws. If we actually did enforce the laws, including denying illegals jobs and public benefits, most illegals would eventually decide to go home on their own and many fewer would come in the future.” Or person two – and this is essentially the president’s argument and the Democrats in Congress – “It is not possible for the United States to enforce current immigration laws. We have to accept the fact that illegal immigrants are here and give them legal status. We also have to accept that they will continue to come to America illegally unless we increase the number of people allowed to enter legally.”

Now, those questions are a little long, but not that long, and we had very few people say they refused to answer or didn’t understand, and it breaks down: 70 percent agree with the person one; that is, we’ve not tried hard enough and if we did they’d go home, and 19 percent agree with person two. Again, these are the combined totals for the battleground districts and states.

As Kellyanne also touched upon, there is very significant skepticism in these battleground states and districts for the need for immigrant labor. Again, we asked a very straightforward question: Person one: “There are not enough Americans to fill all the low-wage jobs that require relatively little education, so we need to allow in more immigrants to the country to take these jobs”; or person two: “There are plenty of Americans to do low-wage jobs that require relatively little education. Employers just need to pay higher wages and treat workers better to attract Americans.” Again, 73 percent said there were plenty of Americans and 17 percent of the public said there were not enough Americans. And this was across the board. Again, these are the battleground – I shouldn’t say Americans; I should say battleground states and districts.

Finally – well, not necessarily finally, but let me also say that there was a clear preference on the part of the public for illegals to go home. Again, in the combined districts, only 19 percent – I should say only 29 percent – said that they would favor a policy or would prefer a policy of earned legalization, 19 percent actually wanted mass deportations and roundups, and 46 percent wanted strict enforcement that causes illegals to go home.

Now, whatever policy we decide on and however quick turns of phrases you might try to use to get the poll results you want, it’s clear that the public wants the illegal aliens to go home. Now, anyone who travels outside the Beltway can tell you that, but nonetheless it’s important when you ask a straightforward question like, “Would you prefer to enforce the law and make the illegal aliens go home or not, or would you rather they earn their way to legalization,” clearly overwhelmingly the public says they’d like the illegal aliens to go home, and some even pick a harsher choice. But I think what’s important about this question, both from in the battleground states and districts and nationally, is the public does also reject the extremes – the extremes of an earned legalization and the extremes of mass deportation and roundups, and rather picks “Let’s start enforcing the law; let’s make the illegal aliens go home.”

Specifically, let me just say, as Kellyanne also touched on, there is little desire to increase legal immigration in these battleground states and districts. And remember, increases in legal immigration are a key component of what our Republican president wants and what the Democrats in Congress want. When asked, in these battleground states, would you be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who supported doubling legal immigration from 1 to 2 million a year in the future, 72 percent of voters said they’d be less likely to vote for such a candidate; only 16 percent said they’d be more likely to vote for such a candidate. And the intensity was overwhelming: 54 percent of voters in these battleground states and districts said that they would be much less likely to vote for a candidate who supports doubling legal immigration, where only 7 percent said they’d be much more likely to vote for such a candidate.

So, overwhelmingly, the country does not want legal immigration increased, which of course is an essential component of the bill passed by the Senate. Overall it would seem that the public is much closer to the House’s approach to deal with illegal immigration: Enforce the law; go after the employers; get the cooperation of local law enforcement, police; and fortify the border and no increase in legal immigration. That’s the House approach. The Senate approach is to increase enforcement but to have a path for earned legalization. And we included in our detailed questioning, you know, pay a fine, background check, so forth. But the bottom line is the public is clearly closer to what the House wants to do – enforcement, no increase in legal immigration – then the Senate: legalization and big increases in future legal immigration. The public is much closer to what the House wants, and that seems to be true both nationally and in the battleground states and districts that we surveyed.

With that, we’d be happy to take your questions. If you have specific questions about specific races, I have most of the overall results with me, but if not I can send you even more detailed results. If you give me you email or call me, we can talk about that as well.

Any questions? Go ahead, yes.

Q: Could you elaborate a little bit more on the Shays-Ferrell race in Connecticut and how these numbers – (inaudible)?

MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah. In that district you’d have to say that that’s the one that is softest on enforcement – and I’m trying to pull it up in front of me here – and more likely to be supportive [of the Senate bill]. Though in that district – let’s see here – immigration still ranked third when asked, which is typically what it did nationally. War was first – war and the war on terrorism. Health care was second. Immigration was third. Seventeen percent of voters said it was not important at all. That was much higher than the 8 percent total nationally.

When told that – and everyone pretty much agrees on these numbers – there are 37 million legal and illegal immigrants living in the United States and 1.5 million new legal and illegal immigrants settle in the country, then when asked to put aside the question of legal status and just ask, “Are these numbers too high or too low?,” that district wasn’t all that different. Only 2 percent said it was too low; 61 percent said it was too high.

What else is a little bit different in that district? I think there’s more support in that district for legalization. Yeah, here is the breakdown here: “Which would you prefer, a large-scale effort to round up and deport illegals”; 12 percent picked that whereas 19 percent picked that nationally. And then also a policy that strictly enforces the law and causes illegals to go home; 42 percent supported it. So you have about 54 percent picking the enforcement choices. And about 40 percent say, 40 percent say a policy that enforces the law makes illegals go home; 12 percent, large-scale deportations, so that’s 52 percent; and 42 percent, though, much higher than the national total, which was around a third, say a policy that allows earned legalization . . . again, a 10-point gap. You couldn’t argue in this district that the preference of the voters is for the illegals to stay, but of any place in the country, the Connecticut district would appear to be – the Connecticut 4th would appear to be most likely to be closer to the president and the Democrats’ position. But again, it would still seem that the majority of the people favor enforcement options, but it is the least likely.

Go ahead.

Q: I’d like to ask Kellyanne a question.


Q: I know you can’t speak for other pollsters, but I’m just curious – other Republican pollsters have found over the past year that even among Republicans there was more support for the Senate bill than the House. You were talking about this partisan divide and so many conservatives wanted more enforcement. I mean –

MS. CONWAY: I think that many of those polls include the word “amnesty.” Many of those polls are done for their political candidates who are also sitting in the United States Senate and sponsoring the bills. Some of those polls also use the magic words “John McCain” as being in favor of it, which carries great weight to many Republicans – in fact, many voters across the country. Also, if it is characterized as bipartisan you can expect, you know, an extra 10 points.

I’m not suggesting any of that is biased so much as I’m suggesting that if you’re going to do things like that, you also ought to say who’s against it. If you’re surveying somebody in the state of Nebraska and you have a senator or two against it, hypothetically speaking, then maybe those people want to know that since those senators get re-elected by like 33 percent of the vote.

I think also if something is supported bipartisan, that’s a fact, but maybe they should also know that the House had a different viewpoint and that there were other things.

MR. CAMAROTA: Well, what’s the most important is probably the fact that they often don’t give the choice of across-the-board enforcement –

MS. CONWAY: Across-the-board enforcement –

MR. CAMAROTA: – to make illegals go home. That’s what makes our poll so distinct. It’s clear that the public does not want mass deportations and roundups. And if you say to the public, that’s really your only option, or we’ll let them earn their way to citizenship, well, the public says, I guess I’ll go with that.

MS. CONWAY: Right. We either send them back or those who are here stay is the way it’s basically being cast. And I did want to make the point that sometimes it also includes some of these magic words that I’ve mentioned.

MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, and I think that’s the key. Overwhelmingly, no matter how we asked the question, most people want the illegals to go home, but they don’t necessarily want mass deportations and round ups, though a surprisingly high percentage still want that option.

When we asked that question alone – would you support a policy of mass deportations and roundups I believe we still got 52 percent to say yes, which I was kind of surprised by. So there is some support for that, but in general if you say, look, we’ll let them earn, I think that’s right. If I were in favor of earned legalization, that’s exactly the way I would say it: “Look, you know, there’s your only two options.” But I think that that isn’t – the House is not planning on mass deportations; the House plan is essentially fortify the border, get the cooperation of local law enforcement, and go after the employers. They may not think that’ll work but it’s clearly more popular than an earned legalization.

Q: You mentioned 54 percent of voters in battleground states said they were less likely to vote for a candidate –

MR. CAMAROTA: Well, to double legal immigration.

Q: Do you have a breakdown on party on that?

MR. CAMAROTA: I can give it to you. I don’t have it here. Oh, just overall, what did I do? I recall that there is some partisan divide I think on that one, but not super strong. There is not much support among any group that we found for doubling legal immigration.

Q: And the other thing I was curious about, especially in the battlegrounds, is do you sense any actual voter change of their positions, or change of their voting activities based on this issue?

MR. CAMAROTA: Well, I mean, you can only take people at their word about whether they’d be more or less likely, whether it’s an important issue to them

Kellyanne, do you want to take a shot at that question?

MS. CONWAY: I’m looking for her other answer, too, if I have it here. If we don’t we can get the cross tabs easily.

MR. CAMAROTA: It’s all on the website.

MS. CONWAY: But if you don’t want to mine through that, you can just call us.

MR. CAMAROTA: And we’ll help you find it.

MS. CONWAY: Yeah. I mean, it was 68 percent overall, so it would be the majority of everyone, but there may be a 10-point difference by party.

Your question was, will it make a difference in voting?

Q: In voting behavior, either in switching their votes to these people or whether they choose to vote. I mean, do you get that sense at all?

MS. CONWAY: I get the sense that to some voters it’s already part of their calculus, and I think the only people – albeit important ones – that that’s lost on are the people running for office because – and if you go back six months ago, five months ago, May 1st, 2006, five short months ago, this was the big issue across this country. And I do want to say further, not just in border states or states with currently high immigrant populations, but many states – I know that Ken Mehlman, now the chairman of the Republican National Committee, has said that he goes to Kansas and hears about immigration from everybody. Now, Kansas does not border Mexico; it’s in the middle of the country. But as campaign manager for Bush-Cheney ’04, perhaps he didn’t hear that the way he hears it when he goes out and travels to all these different states and goes on local radio stations and goes on local news programs and has private dinners with donors and then goes to larger meetings with the party faithful, and it’s out there.

I think for some voters it’s part of their calculus. To the extent that there are independent expenditures in some districts or some statewide races that touch and concern on immigration, you betcha it could spike up.

To the extent there is retail politicking on one side of the issue or the other, you can probably bet that this will affect some votes, and the closer that that onslaught of activity comes to election day, the more important it will be to people. Again, I have to repeat, in a place like Connecticut where people are talking about the war and talking about the economy ad infinitum, this is also on their to-do list, and the fact that it’s not being articulated by the folks who would represent them does not mean that they won’t take that anger or that disgust or whatever it is to them, even that concern, to the ballot box.

Q: By definition, immigration is an international phenomenon, but do voters think of it primarily as a domestic concern?

MS. CONWAY: Voters even think of the war on terror primarily as a domestic concern. The don’t think of the situation in Iraq as a domestic concern only, but the war on terror, yes, we do internalize many things, and immigration is probably, I would say, fairly – if you listen to people long enough, it’s fair to say that people view immigration more domestically than globally because this, for most Americans, is their experience.

I don’t have the most up-to-date, exact statistic, but I do recall that a year ago when I launched my book with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, she had this great statistic she’d say where we went everywhere – the relatively low percentage of Americans that have passports. It’s less than half. And, you know, if you think of that in the context of your question, I think it’s fair to say it’s looked upon domestically first.

MR. CAMAROTA: Go ahead.

Q: I have a question about a district like Indiana 8th, where the differences in the immigration stances between incumbent, John Hostettler, and the challenger, Brad Ellsworth, are essentially non-existent, Hostettler’s rhetoric notwithstanding. They both support the House bill. And that happens in all of Indiana’s competitive districts, in Nine and Two also, the Democratic and the Republican are basically on the same page.

So in a district where there is not much difference between the candidates, is immigration the greatest divide, and if so how?

MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, well, I think in those cases obviously it’s a matter of perception. As I understand it, your analysis is essentially correct that the differences in the Indiana 8th are not huge between the two candidates. Hostettler may emphasize it more.

So one would suspect there it might not have a huge impact. And in districts where on one brings it up – you know, like in the 2004 election, the position of Bush and Kerry was essentially the same on immigration. It’s hard for the issue to break out in those places unless somebody chooses to make it an issue.

Now, obviously Hostettler is chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee. A lot of people would say that he’s worked very hard on the enforcement side and he’s resisted the president, so he at least has that record that he can say, look, you can look at my record; you know, I’ve done what I can, and so forth. And I think that would be a fair reading of Hostettler. The other person you sort of have to take him at his word. But I would agree that if the issue, if both candidates have the same position or their position is not to talk about it, then you would guess it wouldn’t come up.

What these poll results suggested, that if you’re a candidate who favors basically the president’s position or the Senate Democrats’ position, you shouldn’t bring it up. You should talk about other things. And if you’re one who figures – if you’re one who favors the House approach, you ought to bring it up as much as you can, especially if your candidate – you opponent has the other approach. But I’m not in the business of giving advice.

MS. CONWAY: Can I just say two things about that? If I could pick an outlier that’s the opposite of the Connecticut race, it would be Indiana 8th That was the outlier on the other side of the spectrum, where, as I recall, it had a higher number of people saying deportation than anywhere else: 25 percent, large-scale roundup and deportation – that’s when you had the three policies – 24 percent a policy that allows illegal immigrants to stay, and 47 percent a policy that enforces the law.

But what I really wanted to say, because it could combine three of the questions that we’ve received this morning, including yours, sir, that if these candidates – candidates sometimes try to sound like the other person. I think that’s particularly tempting to Republicans this year in what some predict is a bad year to be a Republican, that if you’re trying to beat vanilla, you can’t do it by being French vanilla or even honey vanilla. If you’re trying to beat vanilla and vanilla has got an advantage, you’ve got to be Rocky Road. And I think immigration is one of those issues, if you dare, that you can show some real contrast to your opponent, even in Indiana 8th. I know that they’re very similar but there are ways that as chairman of the subcommittee he could really set himself apart, and some of these polls show that he’s behind by double digits. I don’t know, but I think it would go a long way.

But this is an issue where you still have an opportunity over the next three weeks to show contrast. No one is going to get out there and say, I don’t like prescription drugs for the elderly, I’m against public education, but they may say the House plan is significantly better than the Senate plan and the president’s idea.

MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, that’s a good point.

In the back there.

Q: Yes, have you taken any kind of survey to determine how much immigration is being used in campaigns this year?

MR. CAMAROTA: No, that’s a good question, but let me ask Kellyanne: Do you have – it’s come up in a bunch, but some of these races it’s not come up virtually at all.

MS. CONWAY: I think the place where it’s come up the most on the Republican side is in the primaries, and that tells you something about the difference of opinion within the party apparatus and within voters who call themselves Republican or tend to register and/or vote that way.

I actually, as Republican strategist, welcome that debate. I know other people would rather everything look monolithic. I think it’s a very healthy debate, and I also was not surprised that in many, many cases, that the pro-immigration-reform candidate prevailed, or at least prevailed high enough to go into runoff status, including in Arizona where the national committee got involved against the pro-immigration-reform candidate, and he won anyway.

Q: Which one was that – I’m sorry?

MR. CAMAROTA: Randy Graf won – Graf was the one who won. It was the Arizona 8th, right.

Q: (Inaudible.)

MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, that was an issue where the candidate who was in favor of the House bill and against the Senate bill, even though the Republican leadership dumped a lot of money in his opponent’s race, he still won.

Q: Is he still campaigning – (inaudible)?

MR. CAMAROTA: Yes, I think he is.

MR. CAMAROTA: He’s in the general and it’s a close race, but I don’t know who’s ahead; I didn’t do that race. I kind of wish I had.

We had a – well, go ahead.

Q: As Kellyanne mentioned, five or six months ago it seemed to be the number-one issue in the public’s consciousness. Can either of you identify a sort of event that crystallized it in the public’s mind and propelled it to the forefront? Is there something that happened? I mean –

MR. CAMAROTA: Let me answer that question this way: I think the public was always concerned about it. The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations does this interesting polling work where they go out and they ask journalists and editorial-page editors, and then also college professors, heads of union groups, heads of church groups, business groups – they call this their opinion leaders. And what they always find is immigration ranks very low as an issue. But they find that among the public it ranks very high – a lot of concern. And the policy prescriptions are also very different. The public thinks there’s too much immigration. The opinion leaders think it’s okay the way it is; in fact we can increase it. It’s one of the issues on which the two disagree.

So what I think partly happened was that – a couple of things: 9/11 as a background, generally a downturn in the economy, and also some event like the Minutemen I think made it a bigger issue, and then a decision by some in talk radio and Lou Dobbs on CNN to talk about it. There was kind of an elite breakthrough that then I think put the issue much more on the agenda. But most important is the president himself. Like his policy prescriptions or not, he has talked about the issue – not when he’s running for office, obviously, because his positions would generally hurt him, but after he won he talked about it again. He talked about it soon after winning office.

So the president, I think, most importantly, has caused this issue to break through, especially with opinion leaders, and moved up the public’s concern. Though I don’t think immigration ever hit number one, did it, Kellyanne, six years ago?


MR. CAMAROTA: I think the war has always been – and immigration moved off to two and three. Now, in the couple of congressional districts, like I said – Colorado, Arizona and Texas – that we surveyed, it was the number-one issue. It even beat out the war on terrorism. But that’s generally not been true.

So I guess that’s my take on it – so these specific events and the president kind of led this breakthrough of sort of what might be described as an opinion-leader consensus on the issue, or at least a strong feeling on the part of –

MS. CONWAY: The other thing I’d like to mention about that is there’s a question in the survey we didn’t reveal today which I thought was really eye-opening. We asked people, “Which of the following concerns you most – which of the following possible effects of immigration concerns you most?” And the number-one response nationally and in the 14 battleground areas was the burden on taxpayers with respect to schools and health and all.

Now, that was about 24 or 25 percent, as I recall, and failure to assimilate, national security were also on the list, but I think what’s happened to immigration, in addition to everything Steve says, which is true, that it’s not just about national security and it’s not just about people not speaking English, and it’s not just about taking away jobs and all; people are starting to look at immigration through green eye shadow – through green eyeshades, they say – and they’re saying, “Look, it’s a burden to me because I pay for the schools and I pay for the hospitals and I pay for the roads and everything, and this isn’t, quote, ‘fair.’” And I think particularly in the case of women – which is another expertise of my company – particularly in the case of women, when they look at immigration they no longer think of equality so much as fairness, and fairness has shifted that equilibrium away from the immigrants in some cases and over to themselves and their own kitchen table of economic considerations.

MR. CAMAROTA: Go ahead.

Q: I think also the demonstrations – (inaudible) – this year –

MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, that’s a good point.

MS. CONWAY: No doubt.

(Cross talk.)

MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, that’s right. I think the demonstrations also played a significant role. You’re right.

Go ahead.

Q: Steve, Rick Santorum has been against immigration – illegal. Do you have any stats on how he is in the polls today?

MR. CAMAROTA: I don’t have them with me. You can call me later. But my understanding is he’s behind. He’s significantly behind. And that would – you’d think that would be a breakout issue for him because Casey has endorsed the Senate plan. If Santorum would come forward and say, this is what’s actually in the Senate plan; Casey is so inexperienced he doesn’t know what’s in the plan – something like that – you would guess that that would really help him because all the polling we did in Pennsylvania suggests there is not strong support for legalization, there’s strong support for enforcement, and there is virtually no support for big increases in legal immigration.

So you would think that he could use that issue since he’s against the Senate plan, but I don’t know; I think he’s in trouble. I can give you the voter breakdowns we got for likely voters, but I don’t have them with me.

Go ahead.

Q: This question is not exactly on the poll, but looking ahead just a little bit, if the Democrats do take over the House, what do you see happening to the immigration debate in the lame duck session and then in January in the 110th Congress?

MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s a tough one. Clearly, the fact is immigration is one of the issues on which the two parties really do disagree. (Audio break) – but they’ll have the problem that the president is still in favor of it.

I guess my sense is that the Democrats are going to find immigration almost or perhaps as much vexing an issue as the Republicans because it’s a lot easier to be in the minority and talk about what you’d like to do than when it’s actually your turn. And given – it depends too on how the media reports on things and so forth, but given what would seem to be pretty strong opposition to the kinds of things that’s in the Senate bill, it’s going to be a vexing issue for them. Even though in general the Democrats among themselves mostly agree but they mostly agree while they’re in the minority; will they mostly agree when they’re in the majority?

Sixty Democrats in the House voted for the fence. When it was time to vote for the big plan back in December, Pelosi apparently said to the Democrats in tight races, “Vote your district.” And I think they, what, got 17 Democrats to come over and vote for the House plan under those circumstances.

And then we have all these Democrats running as tough on enforcement and against legalization. They’re going to go to Congress and say, “I can’t now go back, Madame Speaker Pelosi.” So if that answers your question – I don’t have a crystal ball. My guess is we’d see something like the Senate and it’ll vex the heck out of them.

Go ahead.

Q: Are there any key races we should be watching for that will tell us the power of immigration?

MR. CAMAROTA: Well, the three races that we did the most – that seemed like immigration was the most – was the Colorado race, the Arizona race and the Texas race – Texas 17th, Arizona 5th, I think it’s the Colorado 7th race. So there would be three examples of races where polls show that it’s a big issue and the public is really concerned about it. I guess what we can say at least everywhere, if the Republicans lose, it won’t be because of the House plan on immigration, which appears to have very strong support. They’re going to lose because of the war in Iraq, terrorism, the economy, Foley, but their position on immigration, such as it is, would appear to be the most popular with voters.

Q: Is immigration an issue in those three races? Are the candidates talking about it?

MR. CAMAROTA: Yes, they are all talking about it, but whether they’re that different on the issue, I’d have to check out, but they are all talking about it.

Q: And what’s up with that Montana Senate race where it was also –

MR. CAMAROTA: Number two – yes, it’s an interesting question. It has come up, but as far as I know not like it has in Arizona and Colorado. Obviously the illegal population in Montana is growing, but it’s still a relatively modest state in terms of foreign-born settlement, but apparently it’s made it up there as an issue in that race.

MS. CONWAY: May I comment on that?

MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, go ahead.

MS. CONWAY: I want to comment on that because CIS certainly had their expert ideas about which states to test and which – but we sort of also suggested Montana and it made the cutting room floor, I think which I’m glad about because Montana is very populous and very libertarian, and I think there was an excellent piece on its current governor – Democratic governor in the New York Times Sunday Magazine a week ago – a week ago yesterday, which you might want to check out if you missed it, and it really talks about Montana voters and that 3 percent of their population is Hispanic. They have very small levels of immigrant population, but their libertarian populist streak and this idea that Conrad Burns is out of touch with them I think speak to his positions on immigration or what he has and has not done on them more than anything because – his connection to Jack Abramoff may be the reason that he was originally embattled in what should be a very safe Senate seat, but if you’re mad about that, you’ve already made up your mind, and you have a high number of people still undecided in that race, and he’s got a very strong opponent in John Tester.

So the point about immigration is if it’s also seen as one of the symptoms of being out of touch or not understanding what’s bubbling beneath the surface, then it would be completely – you would miss it if you only looked at numbers alone in terms of immigrant or a minority population.

MR. CAMAROTA: Do we have other questions – anyone else? No one? No follow-ups or anything? Okay, well, we’ll stay a little bit after, and as I said, everything is on our website: Thank you.