The GOP debate Tuesday night in Hanover, New Hampshire, sponsored by The Washington Post and Bloomberg News, will focus on the economy, but immigration could play spoiler for two of the top candidates.

Immigration is not high on the list for Republicans when considering their choice for their choice for party’s nominee. It is not even close: Just 1 percent call it their top voting issue. But the lopsided nature of opinion on the issue suggests candidates not be on the wrong side of public opinion. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney may have put themselves at odds with voters on immigration early in the campaign.

Each candidate has stated policies on immigration that haven't jibed with the public and with their Republican base. Perry’s clear support for allowing in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants who graduate from state high schools is broadly unpopular. And a new Washington Post-Bloomberg News poll shows wide, bipartisan opposition to Romney’s call to increase the number of visas for highly skilled foreign workers.

By 59 percent to 31 percent more people oppose rather than support a proposal to increase the number of visas for legal immigrants with advanced degrees in science and math to help fill technical jobs in this country.

That’s a policy that Romney specifically supports in his “Believe in America” jobs plan. On page 128 of the plan he advocates raising “the ceiling on the number of visas issued to holders of advanced degrees in math, science, and engineering who have job offers in those fields from U.S. companies.”

Romney argues that these jobs would not displace unemployed American workers but would instead fill technical jobs “for which there is currently an acute shortage of labor.”

As noted, there is little sympathy for this argument from Americans overall. And it is one of the rare national issues that spans party lines. Wide majorities of Democrats and independents alike dismiss the proposal. It’s especially unpopular among Republicans, who oppose it by 3 to 1.

Virtually all demographic and political groups reject this idea except one. Younger adults, ages 18 to 29, split 45 percent to 43 percent between support and opposition. Despite the disproportionately higher unemployment rate in this age cohort, they are the most likely to support more international visas.

Perry’s immigration problems have been more high-profile and have arguably knocked him from the top of the leader board in national polls. By more than 2 to 1 the public says they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports granting in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who graduate from state high schools, according to the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Republicans’ opposition is even greater, by about a 5 to 1 ratio. Perry has countered that children of illegal immigrants who are not U.S. citizens are often brought into the state as minors with no choice in where they live. He says they are unlikely to leave and should not be punished but rather educated to become contributing members of society.

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