New poll shows ’sea change’ in Californians’ attitudes toward illegal immigration

Ken McLaughlin

New poll shows ’sea change’ in Californians’ attitudes toward illegal immigration

Rally attendees hold a San Jose based rally in support of a massive pro-immigration rally in Washington D.C. at Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park in San Jose, Calif. on Sunday, March 21, 2010. (Josie Lepe/Mercury News) (Josie Lepe)

In a dramatic turnaround from 16 years ago, Californians now overwhelmingly favor giving illegal immigrants a “path to legalization” rather than punishing them by denying them a public education and social services, according to a poll unveiled Monday.

The survey of 1,515 registered voters showed that 67 percent of Californians support a two-pronged approach to solving the illegal immigration problem: implementing stronger enforcement at the border while setting up a legalization path for undocumented immigrants who admit they broke the law, perform community service, learn English and pay fines and back taxes.

Seventy percent favor stricter border controls and a temporary worker program that does not grant illegal immigrants citizenship and requires them to return to their homeland. But only 45 percent favor denying the undocumented an education and taxpayer-funded health and social services.

Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, said the poll — sponsored by the Los Angeles Times and USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences — showed there was a “sea change” in Californians’ attitudes toward illegal immigration since 1994. That’s when 59 percent of the state’s voters cast a ballot in favor of Proposition 187, the white-hot measure aimed at denying services to illegal immigrants. The proposition was later ruled unconstitutional by federal courts.

“The conventional wisdom has suggested that the level of support for denial of services had remained fairly constant,” said Schnur, who once worked for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, a champion of Proposition 187. But the new poll, Schnur said, suggests otherwise.

One big reason for the change: Younger voters are less likely to favor cutting off services to the undocumented, Schnur said. In addition, the number of Latino voters has substantially increased since 1994.

Richard Hobbs, associate director of the San Jose-based Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network, said the poll results didn’t surprise him because he believes most fair-minded Californians realize that the current immigration policy is breaking up families. “There is widespread support to allow mixed-status families to be made whole,” he said.

But Yeh Ling-Ling, executive director of the Orinda-based Alliance for a Sustainable USA, a group that wants to see more restrictions on immigration, said the poll’s results are deceptive and will turn around once Californians begin paying attention to the renewed debate in Congress, expected later this year.

“Nobody ever told the people surveyed that amnesty will lead to an explosion of both legal and illegal immigration as newly naturalized citizens bring in their extended families,” she said.

The wide-ranging survey — which because of its large sampling size has a relatively small margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points — is the second in a series of polls sponsored by the college and the newspaper. The survey was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in conjunction with American Viewpoint, a public-opinion research firm.

Other results included:

  • Forty-six percent of voters are more likely to support a member of Congress or U.S. senator who supported the recently passed health care bill. Twenty-nine percent are less likely to support the lawmaker; it made no difference to 19 percent. The finding is not good news for statewide GOP candidates for governor and U.S. Senate who have vowed to repeal the law.
  • GOP front-runner Meg Whitman is beating Democrat Jerry Brown 44 percent to 41 percent in the battle for governor. In the GOP primary, Whitman was beating Steve Poizner by a 3-1 ratio: 60 percent to 20 percent. Brown led Poizner by 53 percent to 22 percent.
  • Whitman’s wall-to-wall TV and radio advertising campaign has resulted in an increase in favorable ratings from 17 percent in November to 30 percent now. Poizner, the target of Whitman attack ads, has seen his unfavorable ratings increase from 7 percent in November to 23 now.
  • Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer beats a “ Republican” opponent by 48 percent to 34 percent. Former Silicon Valley Congressman Tom Campbell is winning in the GOP primary with 29 percent, compared with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, with 25 percent. Conservative state Assemblyman Chuck Devore is trailing with 9 percent.
  • Belying the “common wisdom” that most Republican primary voters hunger for a red-meat conservative candidate, 44 percent of likely GOP voters said they preferred a “centrist”; 45 percent preferred a “strong conservative.” The difference is statistically insignificant.

“As a Republican pollster, I was struck by how reasonable the Republican primary voter is today,” said Linda DiVall of American Viewpoint.

She noted that only 20 percent of Republican voters surveyed said that it’s “extremely important” for a candidate to be conservative. That, she said, indicates California Republicans this year are more interested in winning than nominating someone who is a true believer.

Contact Ken McLaughlin at or 408-920-5552.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.