NPR logo Public Backs Arizona's Anti-Illegal Immigration Law


Public Backs Arizona's Anti-Illegal Immigration Law

While Arizona's new anti-illegal immigration law is drawing lots of criticism from observers as diverse as civil-liberties groups to late-night TV comics, worth noting are polls that indicate the law has much public support.

Gallup reported Thursday, for instance, that 51 percent of respondents supported the new law while 39 percent opposed it.

But support for the law broke along partisan lines. Gallup found the following:

Nationally, 62% of Republicans support the law (including 75% of Republicans who have heard about it). Democrats are more likely to oppose (45%) than favor (27%) the law, and a majority of Democrats familiar with the law (56%) oppose it. Independents are somewhat more likely to favor (37%) than oppose (29%) the law, with half of those who have heard about it in favor.

Politicians will likely note that independents tilt towards supporting the new law. The law authorizes law enforcement officers in Arizona to seek proof of legal residency in the U.S. if they have reasonable suspicions about the legal status of someone they've stopped.

Both Democrats and Republicans are hyper conscious of independent voters who have made the critical difference in many races. So the fact that independents lean towards supporting the law has some significance.

And Gallup warns that politicians who oppose the Arizona law and try to neutralize it may want to think twice:

Most Americans have heard about Arizona's tough new immigration law, and they generally support it. The law was passed partly in response to a lack of federal action on the issue. Since the Arizona bill became law, congressional Democrats have considered taking up the issue in the coming weeks, though this initial read on public opinion toward the Arizona law suggests Americans may not necessarily back an attempt to supersede or otherwise undermine it.

The Gallup poll was a phone survey.

A poll released Wednesday by Angus Reid Public Opinion, an online survey, gives an even wider margin of support for the Arizona law.

Angus Reid found 71 percent of respondents supporting the idea of "requiring state and local police to determine the status of a person if there is 'reasonable suspicion' that they are illegal immigrants while 22 percent opposed that idea.

Unlike Gallup, Angus Reid provides no partisan breakdown of the results.

Angus Reid asked a more generic question on immigration, asking respondents about whether they supported or opposed legal immigration.

One of the specific questions along this line was: "From what you have seen, read or heard, do you think the number of legal immigrants who are allowed to relocate in the U.S. should increase, remain the same, or decrease?"

The largest percentage, 44 percent, said they thought legal immigration should be lowered.

The response was actually pretty striking for a nation of immigrants. Again, we're talking about legal immigrants. Those are the same legal immigrants many people who want a crackdown on illegal immigrants often say they have no quarrel with.

So what explains that?