Obama makes immigration comeback

February 6, 2013

Americans have given President Obama a major ratings boost on immigration as he and Congress debate the biggest immigration reforms in decades, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

By 49 to 44 43 percent, slightly more Americans now approve than disapprove of Obama on immigration. In July, Obama was deep underwater, with just 38 percent offering positive ratings and 52 percent negative.

Even after the shift, though, Obama's immigration marks continue to trail his overall approval rating, which stood at 55 percent in a January Post-ABC poll.

In addition, two key elements of current reform discussions receive even broader support than Obama: 83 percent support stricter border security, and 55 percent back a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

So is the poll just another indicator of Obama's post-election bounce, or is something deeper afoot in attitudes about immigration? The poll finds evidence for both claims.

Obama's overall job approval rating received a five-percentage-point bump since October, and there is little reason to believe immigration played much of a role in driving that up, given the fact that the "fiscal cliff" negotiations and gun control dominated the political zeitgeist from November to early January.

But perhaps most noteworthy is that fact that Obama's solid-but-not-spectacular ratings mark a major change in how Americans have rated recent presidents -- Republican or Democrat -- on immigration. George W. Bush's approval ratings on immigration ranged from just 29 percent to 34 percent in Post-ABC polls from 2004 to 2007, and Bill Clinton earned just a 28 percent approval on immigration in a 1994 USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, after which pollsters stopped asking that question.

The paltry assessments appear to be rooted in a long-running dissatisfaction with the federal government's handling of illegal immigration. Three-quarters of Americans said the U.S. is "not doing enough" to stop illegal immigration in a 2010 Post-ABC poll, a result consistent with polling since 2005. It's no surprise, then, that 83 percent in the new poll support stricter border control to reduce illegal immigration, with 64 percent supporting this "strongly."

Obama clearly tried to tap into this vein of opinion in a speech last week, touting a drop in illegal border crossings and record high deportations of criminals during his presidency.

In addition, most Americans support what has been the biggest obstacle to immigration reform -- offering a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

While Americans tilt positive on that issue -- 55 percent support a path to citizenship while 41 percent are opposed -- the bigger motivator for lawmakers may be the idea's popularity among Hispanics. More than eight in 10 Hispanics support a pathway to citizenship, while just 15 percent are opposed.

Obama won Hispanic voters by nearly 3 to 1 over Mitt Romney in November, but Republicans are hopeful they can connect on other issues once they deal with immigration reform.

As the debate begins, Obama appears to be already earning credit from Hispanics; 67 percent approve of him on immigration issues, while 23 percent disapprove.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted Jan. 30 to Feb. 3 among a random national sample of 1,038 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full survey is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Click here to see full results and interactive breakdowns.

Menendez dug deep to pay for trips: The $58,500 check that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) cut to pay for previously undisclosed trips provided by a donor who is under investigation represents between 32 percent and 87 percent of the assets Menendez reported in his most recent financial disclosure statement, according to the National Journal.

Menendez is one of the Senate's least wealthy members, and cutting such a large check isn't nearly as easy for him as it is for most of his colleagues. According to National Journal, his 2011 disclosure shows between $66,003 and $165,000 in assets.

The amount suggests that Menendez never planned to pay for the trips himself, as some government watchdog groups are suggesting. His office declined to comment on his personal financial situation.

Fixbits:

The deficit will be less than $1 trillion in 2013 for the first time in five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office's estimate.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) offers some praise for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) speech Tuesday.

It sure sounds like the House GOP is hesitant to embrace a path to citizenship.

Roll Call is out with its quarterly Senate fundraising chart. The biggest off-cycle fundraisers: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The Pentagon is extending more benefits to same-sex spouses of service members.

Britain is on its way to passing a gay marriage law.

For Arizona Republicans, it's never too early to start preparing for redistricting after the 2020 election.

Virginia's GOP state House speaker is expected to thwart a surprise state Senate redistricting map passed by Republicans in that chamber.

Must-reads:

"U.S. Voting Flaws Are Widespread, Study Shows" -- Adam Liptak, New York Times

"Justice Department memo reveals legal case for drone strikes on Americans" -- Michael Isikoff, NBC News

"On guest-worker program, White House tries to foster a deal between business and labor" -- David Nakamura, Washington Post

"Republicans try a softer focus — on life issues" -- Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Capital Insight director Jon Cohen and pollster Peyton M. Craighill also contributed to this report.

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