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Poll show support for immigration reform in Eric Cantor's district not trustworthy

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Virginia,Sean Higgins,Immigration,Polls,2014 Elections,Border Security,Eric Cantor,Dave Brat

In the wake of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's upset Republican primary defeat Tuesday by little-known Dave Brat, pro-immigration activists have scrambled to spin the defeat, since Cantor's past support for some type of reform was an issue that hurt him in the race.

A liberal group's new poll purports to show that immigration reform is actually popular in Cantor's Virginia district, but the wording of the poll's question seems designed to produce that result.

The poll, produced by Public Policy Polling, reports that 72 percent of the residents of Virginia's 7th District, which Cantor represents, favor comprehensive reform. This includes about 70 percent of the Republicans in a district so solidly GOP that the Democratic Party has backed only token opposition.

The real reason that Cantor lost, according to PPP Director Tom Jensen, is that Cantor was personally unpopular, with only 30 percent approval rating in the district.

"Despite much speculation that Cantor's position on immigration reform might have cost him the election, it is actually quite popular in his district and voters want to see Congress act on it this year," Jensen said in a memo accompanying the poll.

Several comprehensive immigration reform backers have pointed to the poll to prove that the district, a suburban of Richmond, is not a hotbed of anti-immigration sentiment.

But is Cantor's strongly Republican district really that pro-immigration reform? Questions have been raised about PPP's methods in the past. Here's how it's poll framed the matter:

There is bipartisan immigration reform legislation being debated in Washington. The bill would secure our borders, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, and make sure that undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with no criminal record register for legal status. If a long list of requirements is met over more than a decade, it provides eligibility for a path to citizenship. Would you support or oppose this proposal?

That is an extremely leading question. It completely ignores the fact that the entire debate over comprehensive immigration reform has been bogged down for years now over the "secure our borders" question. Conservatives insist security must be verified first — that is, no net migration — before the other aspects of the bill can go into effect. Anything less is an "amnesty" bill in their eyes. Liberals have absolutely refused that condition, saying existing immigrants shouldn't have to wait.

PPP's framing of the question simply asserts the legislation would secure the border without clarifying when, allowing the respondent to read into it whatever they want.

It also emphasizes that the proposed bill is bipartisan without clarifying that there is no legislation being debated that has anything close to majority support from Republicans.

A staunch pro-border control conservative who opposes any kind of amnesty for immigrants could nevertheless hear the question and say, "Yes, I support that," thinking they have endorsed a tough law-and-order bill.

The poll also shows that 84 percent of Republicans in Cantor's district think it is somewhat or very important that the immigration system be fixed, with 58 percent calling it "very important." But the question does not clarify what is meant by fixing it. To many conservatives, fixing it might meaning clamping down on illegal immigration and little else. The 84 percent would lump those folks in with the people who think legalizing existing immigrants should be the top priority.

PPP's poll used 488 registered voters. It was done for Americans United for Change, a liberal group.

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Author:

Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner