- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

ARTESIA, N.M. — President Bush has been making a strong push for illegal aliens to assimilate as he stumps for passage of a plan to legalize most of them, but a new poll shows that voters actually want less immigration and more security.

And even Mr. Bush’s own pollster, in another recent poll, failed to ask about a pathway to citizenship, instead focusing on temporary legal status for illegal aliens — a concept Mr. Bush no longer endorses.

About half of those surveyed in the new poll by MWR Strategies said the immigration problem facing the U.S. is “too much immigration,” while just 29 percent identified the problem as “not enough assimilation.”

Michael McKenna, who conducted the poll of 1,000 registered voters, said it suggests that Mr. Bush is moving in the wrong direction by embracing a path to citizenship.

“The practical import of it is, all this yak-yak about path to citizenship — more than half the population looks at it and says there’s just too much. We need less of it,” he said.

“If you think the problem is just too much immigration, you don’t care about path to citizenship or any of that other stuff.”

When asked the best way to address immigration, 36 percent said penalize businesses for hiring illegal aliens, while 35 percent said create a path to citizenship and 17 percent said build a wall.

The Bush administration has been trying to convince skeptical Republicans in Congress that voters prefer a comprehensive solution to immigration and back Mr. Bush, who yesterday said a consensus is building in Congress for the major elements of his immigration proposal, including a path to citizenship.

A recent memo by Matthew Dowd, Mr. Bush’s pollster and a senior adviser to the Republican National Committee (RNC), argues that “the comprehensive approach that emphasizes both security and compassion is unifying, not polarizing — it is supported by Republicans, independents, and Democrats.”

But Mr. Dowd didn’t ask about a path to citizenship, which opponents call “amnesty,” in his most recent survey, taken after Mr. Bush made his Oval Office address to the nation arguing for that proposal. Instead, Mr. Dowd asked about temporary workers, who would return home.

Mr. Dowd is advising Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign in California and was unavailable, according to the RNC. But a party official, who asked not to be named, said they simply didn’t ask about that part of Mr. Bush’s plan.

“The survey clearly asks about a comprehensive approach to immigration. We did not ask support questions regarding path to citizenship in this particular poll,” the official said.

Mr. McKenna criticized Mr. Dowd’s memo, saying it’s “not inaccurate as far as it goes, but it’s sure misleading.”

“The questions themselves are clearly skewed, don’t come to the heart of the issue in any important kind of way and are clearly biased in favor of one side,” he said. “The weight of the numbers and the weight of the evidence suggests that people’s main concern is border security and they view most of these proposals as amnesty.”

Those who support a middle-ground route of giving illegal aliens temporary status but not a path to citizenship said Mr. Dowd’s polling actually supports their plan.

“What is clear from this poll is that a work-and-return program, a bill that has not passed the Senate, can receive significant support,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who supports a temporary program but opposes a path to citizenship. “That’s the third way in this whole debate.”

Dan Bartlett, senior counselor to the president, says the public is behind Mr. Bush.

In a memo Monday, Mr. Bartlett said proposals to allow long-time illegal aliens a path to citizenship scored 79 percent in a CNN poll taken right after Mr. Bush’s speech last month and 77 percent in a CBS News poll.

“The president is leading the country and the Republican Party in a direction he thinks is right, and opinion polls show Americans strongly support a comprehensive approach,” he said.

Those who support a path to citizenship have made some headway in public opinion on how voters see the people who are the subject of the debate.

When Mr. McKenna polled in 2004, after Mr. Bush made his first major immigration speech detailing a guest-worker program, 73 percent saw the noncitizens as “illegal aliens,” while 25 percent saw them as “undocumented workers.” In his new poll, 62 percent said they are “illegal aliens” and 30 percent said they are “undocumented workers.”

Sergio Bendixen, considered one of the top pollsters of Hispanic voters and immigration issues, said the difference between asking about “illegal immigrant” and “undocumented worker” can mean a swing of 20 percentage points in the answers.

Mr. Bendixen said Mr. Bush still has a chance to influence the debate but said he’s having only a slight impact on the debate.

“I think the president is very weak right now politically. I don’t think he’s got a lot of credibility,” he said.

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