The new Arizona immigration law has yet to take effect, but it already has galvanized Hispanic voters to become more actively involved in the political process, according to two recent telephone polls.
Arizona's Hispanic voters overwhelmingly oppose the law, which takes effect this summer and authorizes state police to arrest anyone reasonably suspected of being an illegal immigrant. But they are increasingly frustrated by federal inaction on comprehensive immigration reform and are moving swiftly away from candidates who support the Arizona law, the polls said.
The polls were conducted by two research and opinion firms — Latino Decisions and Grove Insight — for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), with 2.2 million members in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.
"This polling data confirms what we have known for a long time," SEIU Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina said. "American voters, Latino and non-Latino alike, are angry and increasingly fed up with Congress continued failure to fix our broken immigration system. In the absence of a practical fix by Congress, voters will grasp at straws for anything they believe delivers action."
But, he said, there is "clearly a political cost among Latino voters," adding that their widespread opposition to the new law, known as SB 1070, "shows that frivolous, reactionary state laws just serve to galvanize Latino voters to move away from candidates who push draconian, enforcement-only legislation."
The Latino Decisions poll of 402 voters in Arizona and the Grove Insight poll of 500 base voters in Arizona tested overall views and political implications of the passage of the new law, as well as voters' views on immigration reform.
Key findings included that 81 percent of Arizona's Hispanic voters oppose SB 1070. Since the bills passage, the polls found, immigration reform has become the leading issue among Hispanic voters, shooting up by 16 percentage points and moving ahead of the economy and health care as the leading issue among Latino voters.
"The data shows very clearly that Latino voters in Arizona, from first-generation immigrants to fourth-generation families, are very much opposed to SB 1070 and national immigration reform is now their single most important issue," said Matt A. Barreto, a pollster with Latino Decisions and and associate professor of political science at the University of Washington.
"Overwhelmingly, Latino voters fully expect the federal government to take up national immigration reform during 2010 to fix this problem in Arizona," he said.
The Grove Insight poll of Arizona base voters showed similar frustration over congressional inaction. While 60 percent of Arizona voters expressed support for the new law, 73 percent also supported federal reform that included both enforcement and a path to citizenship.
That poll concluded that asking about support for SB 1070 without also asking about comprehensive immigration reform failed to reveal voters underlying motivations. It said a majority of Americans across regions and party lines believe a federal overhaul of a broken immigration system that includes a path to legalization is the only way to end illegal immigration.
"SB 1070 looks popular in polls because it provides a way to express frustration with federal inaction on fixing immigration," said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, NCLR's director of immigration and national campaigns.
"But there is a political price to pay because Latino voters know this law will be ineffective and lead to racial profiling, and they will remember which politicians supported it and which did nothing to stop it," he said.
Ben Patinkin, a senior analyst at Grove Insight, said Arizonans are "frustrated with the current immigration situation and are particularly incensed with the federal governments failure to solve the problem." He said while many "grasp at SB 1070 as a potential solution," the polling data found that they would much prefer comprehensive reform at the national level.
Ms. Martinez de Castro said action to deliver real solutions on immigration is "essential" for Democrats if they want to nurture the support they have gained from Hispanic voters, and "crucial" for Republicans if they have any interest in repairing their relationship with the fastest-growing segment of the electorate.