More than 7 in 10 Florida voters favor the concept of the bipartisan immigration reform plans proposed in Congress, according to a new survey that indicates the issue might not be as politically polarizing as many say.
The results released Thursday from Republican-leaning Harper Polling and Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling could be a big boost to Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential presidential candidate in 2016. Rubio helped craft his chamber’s compromise plan only to face a fierce blowback from the conservative media elite and immigration hardliners.
But Florida Republicans overwhelmingly back the proposal: 71-22 percent, with 43 percent saying they “strongly support,” the poll of 500 voters says.
By an even bigger spread of 82-14 percent, Florida Republicans said their senator should support the plan.
Those results are mirrored across the nation and in Republican states, according to the pollsters, who conducted the survey for a bipartisan coalition backing comprehensive immigration reform.
Republicans, Democrats, independents, blacks, whites and Hispanics all favor the bill.
“The bill that’s been constructed has broad support with every segment of the electorate in every part of the country,” the pollsters wrote in a memo.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a country increasingly polarized across party lines when it comes to almost all attempts to move legislation,” they wrote. “Yet, the compromise that’s been crafted on immigration reform is a rare exception to that rule.”
While conservative critics have been the most-vocal, some liberals have complained that the proposal is too strict and even “anti-immigrant.” Currently undocumented immigrants would have to learn English and wait a long time — at least 13 years — before becoming citizens.
But the poll indicates that the largest group of immigrants in Florida, Hispanics, don’t mind too much.
About 59 percent of Hispanics said they supported the restrictions and 30 percent said they didn’t. Democrats supported them 66-24 percent. Overall support: 71-22 percent.
The error margin of the Florida poll is 5 percentage points. Also, it’s a type of survey known as a “robo-poll” in which people respond to a question by pressing numbers on their telephone key pads.
Robo-polls have become more frequent in recent years, but some pollsters prefer to conduct surveys by live caller.
Also, robo-polls can tend to skew more conservative because older voters tend to tilt right and have land lines that are easier to use by robo-pollsters. Robo-polling Hispanics in Florida is a particular challenge, as it tends to pick up disproportionate numbers of Cuban-Americans, who tend to be older than other Hispanic populations and far more Republican.
Cuban-Americans also have a special pathway to citizenship and are far less likely to be affected by immigration reform as well.
Critics, especially conservatives, are already blasting the poll because, they say, it doesn’t outline enough specifics and it doesn’t ask enough about "amnesty." Different polling methods and questions will yield different results.
Also, a sustained barrage of criticism — especially on the political right — could change sentiments about the proposal. However, as for paid advertising, pro-immigration reforms groups are outspending opponents by a 3-1 split, USA Today reported Wednesday.
At Thursday’s press conference in Miami, Maria Rodriguez, executive director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said the poll shows “shows support for immigration reform with a path to citizenship, across party and racial lines.”
She also criticized Rubio for focusing too much attention on border security. “The best way to secure our border is to have an orderly and possible legal immigration system,” she said in a written statement.
In an early test of support for the comprehensive immigration bill, the Senate on Thursday voted down a Republican attempt to require the U.S.-Mexico border to be under control for six months before immigrants here illegally could take the first steps toward citizenship.
The measure failed 57 to 43, suggesting that bill supporters have work to do to lock down the 60 votes that will likely be needed to overcome GOP stalling tactics and secure final passage of the bill several weeks from now.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.