A New Poll Showing Why Immigration Reform Probably Won’t Pass This Year

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A new poll of Republican voters in Iowa shows why the technology industry may fail to get immigration reform – its top political goal – passed by Congress. The poll shows that 53% of Republicans in Iowa would not vote for a candidate who supported a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers living in America illegally.

See, the technology industry desperately needs more foreign engineers, but Congress refuses to increase the number of visas for high-tech workers without completely overhauling the entire immigration system.

Unfortunately, 2014 is an election year and Republican incumbents could face a backlash at the polls if they compromised to pass a comprehensive bill. Republicans and Democrats disagree whether the 11 million low-skilled undocumented immigrants should be given a path to citizenship or mere permanent residence.

Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, who is in charge of writing the high-tech immigration reform bill in the House of Representatives, told us earlier this year that comprehensive immigration reform isn’t likely to happen until at least after the 2014 mid-term elections, because it’s too politically risky for Republicans to compromise on a bill that may have to have some path-to-citizenship provision.

To test Issa’s idea, TechCrunch conducted another one of our CrunchGov polls* with Google Surveys, looking at whether citizens in a strongly Republican midwestern district would vote for a candidate who supported a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to become citizens.

In the Iowa district of notable immigration reform opponent, Representative Steve King, 53% of self-identified Republicans would not vote for a candidate who favored an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

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That compares to 72% (yes, 72%) of Democrats who would vote for a candidate who supported a path to citizenship.

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Republicans fear that unpopular positions could get them kicked out of office by Tea Party-supported candidates, who have been successful in unseating moderate Republicans in past primaries.

Our local poll helps explain the opposition to immigration reform in the House of Representatives, despite national polls consistently showing that a majority of the American public supports a path to citizenship. A relative minority of conservatives have persuaded the leadership in the House of Representatives that it’s too political dangerous to pass a bill this year, even though it’s broadly popular.

Unlike national polls, a local poll sheds light on the perception that fuels fears in an election year. Iowa is a nice critical test case to demonstrate those fears; if we saw a large majority of Iowans supporting a path to citizenship, then we would have to look to other reasons why Republicans in middle America wouldn’t want the bill to pass. But, as our poll shows, Republicans could indeed face backlash, making them delay voting on a bill, if at all.

Indeed, for a bit of levity on the issue, The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart has a superb (and entertaining) explanation of the internal politics that are preventing Congress from doing its job on immigration reform.

Tech lobbies, including the Mark Zuckerberg-backed FWD.us, have put millions of dollars into pushing immigration reform, but they don’t appear to be more influential than the more forceful elements of the Republican party.

*For the stat nerds

CrunchGov polls are conducted with the Google Surveys micro-polling tool, which is a probabilistic sampling of Internet users known to accurately approximate a representative sample of the U.S. [PDF]. In past stories, TechCrunch has replicated Pew political polls with Google Surveys.

For this story, we employed a function not yet available to the public: the ability to target individual zip-codes that fall under Representative King’s district. Our results roughly approximate a previous poll conducted by a private ideological group, the American Action Network, in the same district.

Unfortunately, the wording in the American Action Network’s Iowa poll is so brazenly biased, the poll itself has serious credibility issues.

As an example, this was the wording of a proposal that they asked Iowans to evaluate, “Provide green cards to foreign students graduating from American universities with advanced degrees so we stop educating the world’s best and brightest and then send them back home to compete against us.”

Even with their (incredibly) biased wording, only 51% of Republicans favored a path to citizenship, which gives even more confidence in our poll. You can see and download data from our poll here.

[Image Credit: Flickr User thecrazyfilmgirl]