The overall support for the bill’s most controversial provision, however, masks partisan divisions that have colored the congressional debate. Majorities of Democrats and independents favor the path-to-citizenship proposal, but 52 percent of Republicans say they oppose it. Among Republicans who dislike the idea, most — 67 percent — say they could not support a congressional candidate who backs a citizenship path.
The new poll also registers potential fallout from the Senate’s recent vote to reject what had been a heavily popular measure to expand background checks of gun buyers to include gun shows and online purchases.
Two-thirds of all Americans say the Senate did the wrong thing in blocking the proposal, with majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents in agreement. Those who say the chamber did the wrong thing blame Republicans rather than President Obama by more than 3 to 1.
But it’s immigration reform that presents GOP lawmakers with a potentially difficult choice. Some prominent Republicans have said the party should get behind comprehensive reform of the nation’s immigration laws to help overcome opposition to GOP candidates among Hispanic voters.
In last year’s presidential election, just 27 percent of Hispanic voters supported Republican Mitt Romney. Unless the party’s next nominees can significantly improve their support among Hispanics, winning back the White House will be difficult.
But with a narrow majority of the Republican rank-and-file opposed to a path to citizenship, Republican lawmakers know that a vote in favor of immigration reform might carry electoral consequences. That reality was reflected in Tuesday’s vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The panel approved the immigration bill, 13 to 5. But only three of eight Republicans on the committee joined the 10 Democrats to support it.
The bill will need 60 votes to clear the Senate. Supporters are hoping for a much bigger majority to give the legislation momentum as it heads to the House, where Republican opposition is expected to be even stronger.
A vote against a path to legal status carries less obvious risk for Republican lawmakers than a vote for it. In the poll, most Republicans who favor such a provision, 62 percent, say they could support a candidate who opposes it.