Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The GOP and Immigration

Nate Silver offers analysis that dyspeptic libertarians might find comforting:

Newt Gingrich was having what seemed to be a pretty strong debate on Tuesday night before being asked a question about immigration policy. He suggested that illegal immigrants should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and that some who have been in the United States for a long time should be allowed to stay, while others should be deported.

Following the exchange, Mr. Gingrich’s stock at Intrade, the political betting market that we frequently track, declined to about 14 percent from 16 percent, erasing gains he had made earlier in the day.

It was not the “flash crash” that proceeded Rick Perry’s “oops” moment during the Nov. 9 debate, but my view is that the markets probably overreacted in this case and that Mr. Gingrich’s answer will not be all that harmful to him.

One reason is simply that Mr. Gingrich’s views on immigration are not all that far out of step with those of Republican voters. Although I can’t find a survey that catalogs Republican responses to Mr. Gingrich’s proposal exactly, a New York Times/CBS News poll from May 2010 on a broad range of immigration-related issues provides some evidence about an analogous proposal.

In that survey, voters were given a choice of three options for handling illegal immigrants who currently hold jobs in the United States:

Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.? They should be allowed to stay in their jobs and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. OR, They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as guest workers, but not to apply for U.S. citizenship. OR, They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S.
Among Republican respondents to the survey, 42 percent said the immigrants should be required to leave. But 31 percent said they should be able to stay and apply for citizenship. An additional 23 percent picked the middle option: the immigrants should be allowed to stay, but as guest workers rather than citizens.

One lesson from this is that no stance on immigration will make everyone happy. The partisan divides on immigration policy are not as stark as they are on issues like the welfare state. But the intraparty disagreement can be pretty bad, as George W. Bush discovered when he tried to push a moderate bill on immigration.

Still, Mr. Gingrich’s position — which would allow some illegal immigrants to stay but not grant them citizenship — seems to come as close as anything to a middle ground. Yes, he might be a little further away from that middle ground in Iowa and South Carolina and candidates like Michele Bachmann are smart to search for any way to exploit that. But Republican views on immigration are not monolithic and should not be portrayed as such.

The rest of the piece is also good.

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