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Legalization of immigrants widely backed

Times Staff Writer

A strong majority of Americans -- including nearly two-thirds of Republicans -- favor allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens if they pay fines, learn English and meet other requirements, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

That is a striking show of support for a primary element of an immigration overhaul bill that has stalled in the Senate amid conservative opposition.

Only 23% of adults surveyed opposed allowing undocumented immigrants to gain legal status. That finding bolsters the view, shared by President Bush, that the bill’s opponents represent a vocal minority whereas most people are more welcoming toward illegal immigrants.

“They are willing to take jobs that our people aren’t interested in, and I think this helps the economy,” Joseph Simpkins, a retired dry cleaner in New Jersey who participated in the survey, said in a follow-up interview. “As long as they pay taxes, I see nothing wrong with having them become citizens.”

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The immigration bill, a top priority for the White House, is languishing at a time when Bush’s approval rating has hit a new low: The poll found 34% approved of the job the president is doing, the lowest level registered by the Los Angeles Times poll throughout his time in office.

Those and other poll findings indicate a pessimistic electorate, distrustful of political and corporate leaders and unhappy with the status quo at home and abroad.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed believe the country is seriously on the wrong track, nearly matching the highest level of pessimism since 1992. Many blame U.S. oil companies and the Bush administration for high gas prices. And they have a jaundiced view of corporate chieftains, seeing them as overpaid and unethical.

“I don’t know anyone who says, ‘Wow! Things are going well,’ ” said Patricia Clark, a homemaker in Harrisburg, Pa. “It’s the middle-of-the-road people like us who pay all the taxes and get hit with high gas prices. I can understand why people don’t vote.”

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Dissatisfaction with Bush is a big part of the sour mood. His approval rating fell to 34% from 45% in September. Even among Republicans, that number was down to 70% from 83%.

Only 31% of those surveyed approved of the president’s handling of the war in Iraq. And the poll found increased support for an immediate U.S. troop withdrawal: A quarter of those polled said they supported such a plan, up from 19% in January.

And the perception that the country is not moving in the right direction was more pervasive than in January, when 61% said things were on the wrong track; now 69% feel that way. Just 43% of GOP respondents said the country is moving in the right direction.

Partisan divisions are particularly pronounced in voters’ views of the economy and their own financial condition. Eighty-two percent of Republican respondents said the economy is doing well, whereas 44% of Democrats shared that view. Fourteen percent of Republicans said they were worse off financially than three years ago, compared with 34% of Democrats.

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The poll also found a wide gender gap in attitudes toward the economy, with men far more optimistic than women. More than two-thirds of men surveyed said the economy is doing well, compared with 49% of women.

“Sure, there are people out of work, but I do feel our economy is doing as well as I’ve ever seen it,” said Harold Wells, a retired financial planner in Michigan. “We have 4.5% unemployment, and the stock exchange is at its highest in a while.”

As gasoline prices soar over $3 a gallon, survey participants were most likely to blame U.S. oil companies and the Bush administration rather than market fluctuations. Whereas 12% said market forces were responsible for the high price of gas, 38% blamed oil companies and 21% blamed the administration.

Corporate chiefs in general were viewed with suspicion, with 81% saying they are overpaid and 33% saying they are ethical.

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The immigration debate has heated up in recent weeks, with the Senate taking up -- and last week putting off -- the overhaul legislation. The bill aims to establish a pathway to citizenship for most of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. It also would create a guest worker program and institute a point system for evaluating new immigrants that would put less weight on family ties and more on applicants’ skills and education.

Underscoring the urgency of the debate, 86% of people surveyed said illegal immigration was an important problem.

Although the pathway to citizenship is one of the most controversial provisions of the Senate bill, 63% of those polled backed the idea -- as did 58% of those who identified themselves as conservatives and 65% of Republicans.

The survey question specified that, under the proposal, citizenship would be available only to those who registered their presence in the U.S., had no criminal record, paid a fine, got fingerprinted and learned English, among other requirements.

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Those conditions helped ease concerns among some Republicans, including Michael Prandini of Fresno, who heads a homebuilders association. He said a path to citizenship without these conditions would be “unfair to the people who have gotten citizenship through the correct channels.”

The guest worker program and visa point system did not draw as much support, largely because those elements of the legislation were not as well known. Forty-three percent said they did not know enough about the point system to have an opinion; 25% did not know enough about the guest worker program to weigh in.

The survey was conducted Thursday through Sunday; 1,183 adults were surveyed by telephone. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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janet.hook@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Views on immigration

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Do you support or oppose the following proposals:

Q: Allow undocumented immigrants who have been living and working in the United States for a number of years, and who do not have a criminal record, to start on a path to citizenship by registering that they are in the country, paying a fine, getting fingerprinted and learning English, among other requirements.

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Support 63% 66% 66% 65% Oppose 23 19 20 27 Don’t know 14 15 14 8

*--*

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Q: Create a guest worker program that would give a temporary visa to noncitizens who want to work legally in the United States.

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Support 49% 51% 52% 47% Oppose 26 26 24 30 Don’t know 25 23 24 23

*--*

Q: Establish a point system for new immigrants that gives more weight to professional qualifications and command of English than to those having family already in the United States.

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*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Support 34% 30% 33% 43% Oppose 23 30 24 16 Don’t know 43 40 43 41

*--*

Q: Do you think things in this country are generally going in the right direction or are they seriously on the wrong track?

Now

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Right direction: 24%

Wrong track: 69%

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

*--* His job as Situation president The economy in Iraq Approve 34% 38% 31% Disapprove 62 58 67 Don’t know 4 4 2

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*--*

Q: So far, who do you think is winning the war in Iraq?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans U.S. 18% 11% 13% 34% Insurgents in Iraq 13 20 16 4 Neither U.S. nor 64 66 66 54 insurgents Don’t know 5 3 5 8

*--*

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Q: Do you support or oppose setting a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Support 57% 82% 60% 24% Oppose 39 14 36 73 Don’t know 4 4 4 3

*--*

Q: In your opinion, when should the United States withdraw troops from Iraq?

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*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Right away 25% 42% 22% 9% Within the next year 43 50 46 31 Stay as long as it 26 6 23 54 takes to win the war Don’t know 6 2 9 6

*--*

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Answers may not total 100% where some answer categories are not shown.

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For more results and poll analysis, visit: www.latimes.com/timespoll

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Methodology:

The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,183 adults nationwide by telephone June 7-10. Telephone numbers were chosen randomly from a list of all exchanges in the nation, allowing 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 proportions by sex, ethnicity, age, education and national region. The margin of sampling error for all adults 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.

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Source: L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll


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