A whopping 49 percent of Republicans and independents who lean to the GOP say Trump is the presidential candidate who can best handle the issue — well ahead of Marco Rubio with 10 percent GOP support, Ted Cruz with 7 percent and Jeb Bush at 5 percent.
The divide in the GOP over how to address issues stemming from illegal immigration spilled over in the fourth Republican presidential debate Tuesday. The opt-in, Internet survey was taken Nov. 5-9, before the economy-focused debate in Milwaukee.
Trump traded barbs with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who called the front-runner’s idea to deport the estimated 11 million immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally “a silly argument” that “makes no sense.” Bush also attacked Trump, saying mass deportation would tear communities apart.
“Even having this conversation sends a powerful signal,” Bush said during the debate in Milwaukee. “They’re doing high-fives in the Clinton campaign now when they hear this.”
Trump’s plan to end so-called birthright citizenship and send all unauthorized immigrants back to their home countries helped propel him to the top of polls this summer. Rubio and Bush both support a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who undergo a background check, learn English and pay fees or taxes.
In another sign of GOP support for Trump’s strict immigration policies, more poll respondents reacted favorably to a comment by the real-estate mogul.
Sixty-five percent of Republicans and the independents who lean that way agreed with this statement: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Trump said that in June, but poll respondents weren’t told who said it.
By contrast, 77 percent of Republicans disagree with this comment: “Yes, illegal immigrants broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love; it’s an act of commitment to your family.” Poll respondents weren’t told that Bush said the comment in April.
A wide-range of Republicans, including 2008 presidential nominee John McCain, have said the party could be in danger of losing the 2016 White House race if the GOP doesn’t make gains with Hispanic voters.
Less than a third of Americans, or 31 percent, believe the GOP’s position on immigration would hurt the party compared to 17 percent of the Republicans in the survey.
The divide among GOP presidential candidates on immigration come as both Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have declared a legislative overhaul dead while President Barack Obama is in office.
The poll results also come as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on Monday blocked the Obama administration from implementing executive actions that would expand deportation deferrals and work benefits for millions of immigrants who entered the country illegally. The government lawyers said they would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, which is seen as the best path for Obama’s executive orders.
The overall sample of the Economist Group/YouGov poll was 2,000 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Data reflect responses from 633 – 635 Republicans and independents who lean Republican. CQ Roll Call is part of The Economist Group.
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