Most Republicans in the key early 2016 states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina support allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and earn citizenship or permanent legal status, newly released surveys by a GOP polling firm for a pro-immigration group has found.
But the polls also underscored the issue's potential to sharpen the ideological and class divides already emerging in the crowded GOP race. In each state, requiring all undocumented immigrants to leave the country drew more support among men than women, conservatives than moderates, those without a college degree than those who held advanced education, and Tea Party supporters than those who did not identify with that movement.
Still, in each state only two-fifths or less of all Republicans said that undocumented immigrants "should be required to leave the U.S.," according to the three surveys conducted by Burning Glass Consulting for The Partnership for a New American Economy.
Burning Glass is a GOP firm founded by Katie Packer Gage, the deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney in 2012 and two other women with a long pedigree in Republican politics, Ashley O'Connor and Christine Matthews. The Partnership for a New American Economy is a pro-immigration group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other business and political leaders including Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and CEO of 21st Century Fox.
Supporting legalization "is not a deal breaker for the large majority of Republican primary voters and caucus goers." —Katie Packer Gage, deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney in 2012
Both legal and undocumented immigration have emerged as key dividing points among the Republican field. Jeb Bush and long-shot Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have most vocally defended providing the undocumented with some legal status (though Bush has wavered on whether he would back full-scale citizenship). Most of the other GOP candidates have rejected any legal status. Meanwhile, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has opened a new front by proposing a reduction in legal immigration--a position Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has also praised in more general terms.