Rush Limbaugh dismissed the results of a new immigration poll showing that a majority of Americans favor an immigration process with a path to citizenship for the country's undocumented immigrants, saying that what the poll does is show only that people "do not want to be seen as bigots" or anti-immigration. He characterized it as the "Wilder Effect in reverse."
The Washington Post explained the "Wilder Effect" this way:
[T]he "Wilder effect" -- where whites overstate their support for black candidates -- merged with the "Bradley effect" -- where whites say they have no opinion when they really support a white candidate in match-ups between white and black candidates - in lore, casting doubts on the accuracy of polls in such contests.
The survey to which Limbaugh referred, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), found that throughout 2013, "there has been consistent bipartisan and cross-religious support for creating a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States." PRRI continued:
Today, 63% of Americans favor providing a way for immigrants who are currently living in the United States illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, while 14% support allowing them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, and roughly 1-in-5 (18%) favor a policy that would identify and deport all immigrants living in the United States illegally. This support for a path to citizenship has remained unchanged from earlier this year, when in both March and August 2013 an identical number (63%) supported a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the United States illegally.
Discussing the poll, Limbaugh argued that results were skewed because respondents were saying they favored a path to citizenship when they in fact did not. He explained that "nobody wants to be called" a racist, and that's what accounted for the high favorability. He added: "This is not something most people want and so they just lay down and they don't say what they really think." He continued:
LIMBAUGH: This is a hot-button issue and it does involve what people think is race and ethnicity and the pollsters know this but they're not using the word amnesty. If they go out and ask the question, should undocumented aliens who are here illegally be automatically granted citizenship, what do you think the poll would show? And that's what the pollsters are attempting to say is happening.
However, Limbaugh's theory is difficult to take at face value as the poll took into account several factors -- including race, religion, and political affiliation -- and "drilled down into that issue," as The New York Times noted:
The group drilled down into that issue, creating subgroups for the November survey who were asked questions with differing levels of detail about the requirements immigrants should have to meet to become citizens. When there was no mention of requirements, 59 percent supported an option for citizenship. When the question specified that immigrants would have to pay back taxes, learn English and pass background checks, support increased to 71 percent.
The requirements were "most important for Republicans," the report said. When the question did not mention requirements, only about four in 10 Republicans supported citizenship. When the requirements were described in more detail, Republican support increased to 62 percent.
Moreover, the Post's article on the "Wilder Effect" pointed out that according to a Harvard University analysis, "any 'Wilder effect' that existed in the early 1990s has disappeared, countering the notion that there is a systematic bias in such polls." The Harvard paper also found "no Wilder effect in the 2008 primaries or the general election."
Contrary to Limbaugh's claims, polls have consistently found that Americans favor giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship:
- A November 13 poll found that 72 percent of Ohio residents support an immigration proposal with a path to citizenship, that 68 percent of respondents support a plan that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants and citizenship to those who were brought to the country illegally as children.
- A November 7 poll found that 73 percent of Americans nationwide would support legislation with a path to citizenship, as long as it included penalties, required them to learn English, pass background checks, pay taxes and wait at least 13 years.
- A July poll found that 55 percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
- A May poll found that 54 percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
- A January poll found that 62 percent of Americans "favor providing a way for illegal immigrants in the U.S. to become citizens."
Even a Fox News poll conducted in January found that 66 percent of Americans "think there should be a path to citizenship, but only if the individual meets requirements such as paying back taxes, learning English and passing a background check."