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Most Back Tighter Border and a Guest-Worker Plan

Times Staff Writer

Most Americans say the United States should confront the challenge of illegal immigration by both toughening border enforcement and creating a new guest-worker program rather than stiffening enforcement alone, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

By a solid 2-1 margin, those surveyed said they would prefer such a comprehensive approach, which a bipartisan group of senators has proposed, to an enforcement-only strategy, which the House of Representatives approved in December. Support for a comprehensive approach was about the same among Democrats, independents and Republicans, the poll found.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. April 16, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 16, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
Immigration poll: An article and photo caption in some editions of Thursday’s Section A said a Times/Bloomberg poll found less enthusiasm for allowing new illegal workers into the U.S. than for permitting those already in the country to remain legally. What the poll actually found was less support (54%) for establishing a guest-worker program than for granting legal status to those already here (66%).

“Do you remember 100 years ago when we were saying, ‘Give us your tired, give us your poor?’ ” said David Wells, a Republican who works as a golf course groundskeeper in Plant City, Fla. “How come that doesn’t still stand? I don’t think it is right to send all the people back who have been here 15 or 20 years, who have families here, who have been good, who haven’t been in jail and have been productive.”

Still, Americans showed markedly less enthusiasm for allowing illegal workers to continue to flow into the U.S. than they did for proposals to permit the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants already here to remain legally. And even some of those who rejected efforts to remove the illegal immigrants already in the U.S. made clear in interviews that their opposition was based more on practical than philosophical objections.

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“I don’t think you should be in the country illegally, and I think the people who are here are taking away opportunities from Americans,” said Bill Erner, a Democratic factory worker from Dubuque, Iowa. “But the ones that are already here, it would be almost impossible to find them all and send them back to Mexico or wherever they came from.”

The nationwide Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,357 adults, including 1,234 registered voters, from Saturday through Tuesday. The survey, supervised by Times Polling Director Susan Pinkus, has a margin of sampling error for both groups of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll contained ominous findings for the Republican House and Senate majorities as the midterm elections approached.

Although President Bush’s job approval rating was essentially unchanged from his 38% showing last month, the new poll found Democrats opening double-digit leads on the key measures of voters’ early preferences for the November balloting.

Democrats lead Republicans 49% to 35% among registered voters who were asked which party they intended to support in their congressional districts this fall. When registered voters were asked which party they hoped would control the House and Senate after the midterm election, 51% picked the Democrats and 38% the GOP.

On both questions, independent voters preferred Democrats by ratios of about 3 to 1 or more.

The Republicans “don’t have it anymore,” said Alfred Smith, an independent in Bucks County, Pa., who runs a printing company. “They don’t trust each other. They don’t look like they are all together anymore.”

Forecasting the effects of these broad national attitudes on the results in individual congressional contests is an imperfect science. Republicans could be helped this fall because relatively few House districts are closely balanced between the parties, and many of the key Senate races are in states that already lean toward the GOP.

Even so, the Democratic advantage found in the poll is nearly three times the advantage Republicans had in 1994 when they made landslide gains in congressional elections.

In these early soundings for 2006, Republicans face the potential reemergence of a gender gap that Bush narrowed in his 2004 reelection. Although men split evenly when asked which party they intended to support in November, women preferred Democrats 57% to 31%, the survey found.

Democrats hold a commanding advantage not only among single women, a traditional Democratic constituency, but among married women, a swing group that broke toward Bush and the GOP in 2004.

The impasse in Washington over restructuring immigration laws has led many to predict the issue could become a flashpoint in this year’s election. But the public does not yet seem impassioned about the controversy: Although 84% of poll respondents agreed that illegal immigration was a problem, 31% identified it as one of the country’s major problems.

The idea that drew the most support in the survey was allowing illegal immigrants who had been living and working in the U.S. to obtain visas to work here legally, and to move toward citizenship if they met a list of requirements.

Two-thirds of those polled said they supported such a proposal.

Still, about one-fifth of those responding agreed with Katherine Asaif, a Colorado Springs, Colo., schoolteacher, who rejected such ideas. “I understand why people want to come to the United States,” she said. “But it does seem to be rewarding the law-breaking.”

Establishing a program to import future guest workers drew more modest support, with 54% of those polled supporting and 21% opposing it. Vivian Richardson, a nurse’s assistant who lives outside Raleigh, N.C., believes guest workers are necessary because they perform jobs “Americans don’t want to do anymore,” such as working in fields or poultry plants.

Two centerpieces of the House immigration legislation fared less well, though they attracted more support than opposition: 42% of those surveyed said they supported measures to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and brand illegal immigrants as felons, whereas 35% opposed such measures.

After hearing all the alternatives, 63% said Congress should blend enforcement with a guest-worker program, as Bush and many senators in both parties want, whereas 30% said Congress should focus on enforcement only, as many House Republican leaders prefer.

Among whites, an underlying class division ran through several of the questions. The GOP enforcement provisions drew much more support from whites without a college degree than those with advanced education.

Conversely, a guest-worker program was notably more popular among college-educated whites than among those without college degrees, who could face more direct economic competition from the importation of such workers.

“They say [illegal immigrants] want to do a job Americans don’t want to do,” said Erner, the Democratic factory worker. “I think [employers] don’t want to pay a wage Americans can live on.”

Those class fissures help explain a surprising result: that Democrats are less enthusiastic than Republicans about proposals to create a guest-worker program or to legalize illegal immigrants -- ideas supported much more in Washington by Democratic than Republican leaders.

Support for the legalization of illegal immigrants is notably higher among independents (71%) and Republicans (67%) than Democrats (59%). The guest-worker program also drew more support among independents (60%) and Republicans (56%) than Democrats (48%).

Part of the reason for the disparity is that non-college voters, who are most skeptical of the idea, constitute a larger share of Democrats than Republicans. The larger reason is that Democratic voters without a college education are much more skeptical about those ideas than Republicans of similar education levels.

For instance, although 54% of Republicans without a college degree support a program to import guest workers, just 38% of such Democrats do. Support for a guest-worker program is especially low among minority Democrats without college degrees -- some of the people who might face the greatest competition for jobs from such a program.

The survey found Bush’s overall standing with voters had stabilized, but at a relatively low level: 39% of those polled said they approved of Bush’s performance, whereas 57% disapproved. Last month, 38% approved and 58% disapproved, the weakest showing of his presidency in a Times survey.

But the poll offered few other encouraging signs for the president. The share of Americans who say they strongly disapprove of Bush’s performance (42%) remains more than twice as large as the percentage (19%) that strongly approves.

On Iraq, 37% applauded his performance, whereas 59% disapproved. On terrorism, long a Bush strong point, 43% said they approved and 53% disapproved. On the economy, 39% approved and 57% disapproved.

Compared with March, the findings represent virtually no change for Bush on terrorism and slight improvements on Iraq and the economy. But another economic measure trended against Bush: the percentage of those who said the economy was doing well fell from 56% in March to 52% in the new survey. In January 2005, 60% said the economy was doing well.

The survey also found most Americans unhappy with reports that Bush had approved leaks of classified information on Iraq’s prewar weapons program to bolster his case for invading the country.

In the survey, 22% of those polled said they believed Bush’s decision was appropriate, whereas exactly three times as many deemed it inappropriate. Republicans split precisely in half over the leak.

“I think he has reasons for doing the things he does in keeping us safe,” said Carrie Earhart, a Republican from Tampa, Texas, who works as a housekeeper.

But Wells was troubled. “If he’s the president, he is supposed to be setting an example for the rest of us,” he said. “And he’s not setting a very good example by being mischievous.”

Broader measures also captured signs of continuing discontent. Just 26% of those polled said they considered the country to be on the right track. Nearly two-thirds said the country was on the wrong track.

One final question offered perhaps the most dramatic expression of the nation’s discontent with Bush’s second term. Asked whom they would support today in a rerun of the 2004 presidential election, 39% of registered voters picked Bush, whereas 49% said they preferred the man the president defeated only 17 months ago, Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Attitudes on immigration

Among all adults

Do you support or oppose the following immigration proposals:

Create a guest-worker program that would give a temporary visa to noncitizens who want to legally work in the U.S.

Support: 54%

Oppose: 21%

Don’t know: 25%

*

Allow undocumented immigrants who have been living and working in the U.S. for a number of years, with no criminal record, to start a path to citizenship.

Support: 66%

Oppose: 18%

Don’t know: 16%

*

Fence off hundreds of miles of the border between the U.S. and Mexico and make it a felony to enter illegally.

Support: 42%

Oppose: 35%

Don’t know: 23%

--

Hard time for Bush, GOP

Among all adults

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling...

His job as president

Now

Approve: 39%

Disapprove: 57%

January 2006

Approve: 43%

Disapprove: 54%

January 2005

Approve: 50%

Disapprove: 47%

*

The situation in Iraq

Now

Approve: 37%

Disapprove: 59%

January 2006

Approve: 41%

Disapprove: 56%

January 2005

Approve: 42%

Disapprove: 54%

--

Q: Which statement comes closest to the way you feel about George W. Bush:

“Like him and his policies”: 34%

“Like him, but not his policies”: 28%

“Don’t like him, but like his policies”: 2%

“Don’t like him or his policies”: 34%

--

Q: Do you think George W. Bush shows good judgment in a crisis?

Yes: 46%

No: 49%

Don’t know: 5%

--

A former senior White House aide testified that George W. Bush authorized a leak of classified information to support the case for war in Iraq.

Do you believe Bush authorized the leak?

Yes: 46%

No: 22%

Don’t know: 32%

--

Q: Do you think it was an appropriate action or not?

Not appropriate: 66%

Appropriate: 22%

Don’t know: 12%

--

Q: Does it change your opinion of Bush’s credibility?

No change: 76%

Less credible: 20%

More credible: 1%

Don’t know: 3%

--

Q: What is your impression of:

Democrats in Congress

Favorable: 41%

Unfavorable: 38%

Haven’t heard / Don’t know: 21%

*

Republicans in Congress

Favorable: 37%

Unfavorable: 50%

Haven’t heard / Don’t know: 12%

--

Q: When it comes to immigration laws, do you prefer an approach that solely focuses on tougher enforcement or one that includes both tougher enforcement and a guest-worker program?

Tougher enforcement and a guest-worker program: 63%

Only tougher enforcement: 30%

Don’t know: 7%

--

Among registered voters

Q: Which party would you like to see win in your congressional district:

Democrats:

Republicans:

Other: 3%

Neither: 6%

Don’t know: 7%

--

Q: Which party:

Best represents your values

Democrats: 45%

Republicans: 38%

Both: 4%

Neither: 8%

Don’t Know: 5%

*

Listens more to lobbyists/special interests than to their constituents

Democrats: 26%

Republicans: 35%

Both: 18%

Neither: 7%

Don’t Know: 13%

*

Has more honesty and integrity

Democrats: 30%

Republicans: 29%

Both: 7%

Neither: 26%

Don’t Know: 8%

*

Can best handle major national problems

Democrats: 40%

Republicans: 30%

Both: 7%

Neither: 12%

Don’t Know: 11%

*

Can best deal with Social Security

Democrats: 47%

Republicans: 23%

Both: 3%

Neither: 14%

Don’t Know: 13%

*

Can best handle the budget deficit

Democrats: 47%

Republicans: 20%

*

Can keep U.S. prosperous in years to come

Democrats: 41%

Republicans: 32%

Both: 7%

Neither: 10%

Don’t Know: 10%

*

Can deal better with national security/war on terrorism

Democrats: 29%

Republicans: 41%

Both: 8%

Neither: 12%

Don’t Know: 10%

*

Can manage better prescription drug coverage under Medicare

Democrats: 52%

Republicans: 17%

Both: 5%

Neither: 12%

Don’t Know: 14%

*

Will be best on immigration issues

Democrats: 29%

Republicans: 26%

Both: 5%

Neither: 22%

Don’t Know: 18%

*

Can best handle taxes

Democrats: 42%

Republicans: 29%

Both: 4%

Neither: 14%

Don’t Know: 11%

*

Can better handle the situation in Iraq

Democrats: 33%

Republicans: 36%

Both: 4%

Neither: 16%

Don’t Know: 11%

--

Note: All questions are summarized. For full/exact wording of questions along with poll results and analysis, go to: www.latimes.com/timespoll

Some results may not add up to 100% where some answer categories are not shown.

--

How the poll was conducted:

The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,357 adults nationwide by telephone Saturday through Tuesday. This includes 1,234 registered voters. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the nation, and random-digit dialing techniques allowed listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. Adults were weighted slightly to conform with their respective census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.

Source: Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll

*

Times Associate Polling Director Jill Darling Richardson and Data Management Supervisor Claudia Vaughn contributed to this report


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