Anatomy of a Misleading Immigration Poll, Pt. 3

he Public Religion Research Institute’s poll on immigration reform touts its finding that a majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for illegal migrants. They further tout their comparative finding that more Americans support a pathway to citizenship than providing illegal migrants with legalization status without citizenship.

In PRRI’s own words, “Today, 63 percent of Americans favor providing a way for immigrants who are currently living in the United States illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, while 14 percent support allowing them to become permanent legal residents, but not citizens.”

The question that allows them to report that conclusion is this one:

Q.11 Which statement comes closest to your view about how the immigration system should deal with immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally? The immigration system should… (FORM 1 READ 1-3 IN ORDER, FORM 2 READ 1-3 REVERSE ORDER)

63 Allow them a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements

14 Allow them to become permanent legal residents, but not citizens

21 Identify and deport them

1 None of these (VOL.)

1 Don’t know/refused (VOL.)

100 Total

I have italicized the phase “provided they meet certain requirements” to underscore that it is a phase connected with the “pathway to citizenship” response, but not the permanent legal resident response.

The question, as it stands, is decidedly unbalanced in that it favors the pathway to citizenship response.

How? It simply requires all those who think illegal immigrants should get a grant of legalization to also believe that immigrants need to do something in return, like “meeting certain requirements”.

It seems very likely that had that option been included in the legalization response rather than citizenship response, the results would have been quite different.

There is one more very puzzling omission on the part of the Public Religion Research Institute’s immigration poll, and that is its treatment of the deportation option. They report, in their own words, that “[R]oughly 1-in-5 (18 percent) favor a policy that would identify and deport all immigrants living in the United States illegally.”

I am not exactly sure where that 18 percent number comes from, but I am sure that the other questions asked about deportation also are inconsistent with it.

Below are the immigration poll’s questions dealing with deportation, rather than legalization:

Q.12 As I read a pair of statements, please tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views — even if neither is exactly right. [READ; ROTATE OPTIONS].

29 The best way to solve the country’s illegal immigration problem is to secure our borders and arrest and deport all those who are here illegally

68 The best way to solve the country’s illegal immigration problem is to both secure our borders and provide an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S.

2 Neither/Both equally (VOL.)

1 DK/REF (VOL.)

100 Total

Note first that 29 percent is a good deal higher than the 18 percent reported in the organization’s tout sheet. Note again that the wording of the responses favors legalization with citizenship rather than just legalization. Not asked: whether securing our borders and granting legalization, but not citizenship, would be a good option.

Then there are the survey’s questions that deal solely with deportation:

Q23/d. The best way to solve the country’s illegal immigration problem is to make conditions so difficult for illegal immigrants that they return to their home country on their own

14 Completely agree

20 Mostly agree

28 Mostly disagree

36 Completely disagree

2 Don’t know/Refused (VOL.)

100 Total

Q23/f. We should make a serious effort to deport all illegal immigrants back to their home countries.

19 Completely agree

24 Mostly agree

30 Mostly disagree

25 Completely disagree

2 Don’t know/Refused (VOL.)

100 Total

Note the numbers. In Question 23d, 14 percent completely agree with the deportation statement and 20 percent mostly agree, for a total agreement of 34 percent. That is higher than the roughly 18 percent touted in PRRI’s news release.

In question 23f, 19 percent completely agree with the deportation option and 24 percent mostly agree, for a total of 43 percent. That is great deal higher that the 18 percent figure touted in the PRRI’s new release.

What accounts for the differences between what their data show and what they chose to tout in the news release? I can’t say and don’t wish to speculate.

I can say that when an organization runs a survey with the clear intent to add its voice to the public’s understanding, it has a responsibility to be more scrupulous.

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