Christian Science Monitor, Dobbs cited misleading Zogby poll to report that Americans support House version of immigration bill

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

A Christian Science Monitor article cited a May 3 Zogby poll that found "[b]y a 2 to 1 margin" likely voters prefer the more punitive, enforcement-only immigration bill passed by the House in December over the comprehensive proposals currently being considered by the Senate. CNN host Lou Dobbs also cited the poll to claim that "voters overwhelmingly believe the House of Representatives has a better plan than the Senate." But the Zogby poll -- which was commissioned by an anti-immigration group -- misrepresented both proposals, and most polls on the issue run counter to Zogby's conclusions.

In a May 5 article on the Minuteman Project's current cross-country campaign against U.S. border policies, Christian Science Monitor staff writer Daniel B. Wood noted the group's insistence "that a majority of Americans are fellow travelers when it comes to controlling immigration." Wood went on to report that "[r]ecent polls would lend credibility to that assertion." He then cited a May 3 Zogby poll that found "[b]y a 2 to 1 margin" likely voters prefer the more punitive, enforcement-only immigration bill passed by the House in December over the comprehensive proposals currently being considered by the Senate. CNN host Lou Dobbs also cited the poll to claim that "voters overwhelmingly believe the House of Representatives has a better plan than the Senate." But a closer examination reveals that, in asking respondents to choose between the House and Senate approaches, the Zogby poll -- which was commissioned by an anti-immigration group -- misrepresented both proposals. Moreover, as other articles have reported, most polls on the issue run counter to Zogby's conclusions.

On December 16, 2005, the House passed the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act (H.R. 4437). The bill, sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI) and supported by 203 House Republicans, would impose criminal penalties for those aiding illegal immigrants and call for construction of a fence along much of the U.S.-Mexico border. The bill would also make unlawful presence in the U.S. a felony. The House legislation provoked a series of large-scale protests nationwide in March and April, timed to coincide with the Senate's deliberations on the issue.

On March 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006," which would boost the number of border patrol agents, deploy new technologies to monitor the border, and provide legal residence and the possibility of citizenship to those illegal immigrants currently in the United States. In order to receive green cards under the plan, immigrants would be required to remain employed for six years, pass a background check, learn English, and pay both a fine and back taxes.

On April 6, after the committee's bill stalled, a bipartisan group of senators reached an agreement on a compromise proposal that divided the undocumented immigrant population into three categories. Those in the U.S. for five years or more would be allowed to remain in the country and begin working towards citizenship (under the terms laid out in the judiciary committee bill). Those in the U.S. between two and five years would be required to return to a port of entry, where they would be granted temporary worker visas and become eligible for eventual citizenship. Those illegal immigrants in the country less than two years would be required to return home. This proposal is still under consideration in the Senate.

The Zogby poll cited by both Woods and Dobbs was privately commissioned by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a Washington, D.C., think tank that supports highly restrictive immigration policies. CIS was founded by John Tanton, considered by many to be the father of the anti-immigration movement. Zogby conducted the survey of likely voters between April 17 and April 24.

The poll first asked respondents whether they thought the House proposal was a good idea or a bad idea. But in describing the bill, the survey softened many of its sharp edges. Rather than explain that the House legislation would classify as felons the 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S., the poll described it as "a bill that tries to make illegal immigrants go home." Instead of clarifying that the measure would mandate the construction of a 700-mile-long fence, the poll informed respondents that it would "reduce future illegal immigration mainly by fortifying the border." Following is the question in full:

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that tries to make illegal immigrants go home and reduce future illegal immigration mainly by fortifying the border, forcing businesses to verify that workers are legally in the country, and allowing greater cooperation from local law enforcement. It does not increase the number of people allowed into the country legally.

Based on this description of the bill, 69 percent of respondents said it was a "good or very good idea," while 27 percent found it to be a "bad or very bad idea."

The poll went on to solicit respondents' reaction to the Senate approach to immigration reform. In describing the Senate plan, however, the poll focused only on the legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- in its words, "a bill that would allow 12 million illegal immigrants here to apply for green cards, which allows permanent residence and citizenship, after a background check and payment of back taxes." The poll omitted mention of the more limited compromise legislation. Further, it neglected to explain that, under the Judiciary Committee proposal, illegal immigrants would not only have to pass a background check and pay back-taxes before receiving a green card, they would also have to remain employed for six years, pay a fine, and learn English. Following is the question in full:

The Senate is considering a bill that would allow 12 million illegal immigrants here to apply for green cards, which allows permanent residence and citizenship, after a background check and payment of back taxes. In addition, the bill would double the number of green cards in the future from 1 to 2 million a year. It would also allow in an additional 400,000 foreign workers each year, who could also apply for green cards. The bill also increases enforcement of immigration laws.

Based on the above description, 43 percent of respondents said the Senate bill was a "good or very good idea," while 50 percent found it to be a "bad or very bad idea."

The poll then asked respondents to choose between the House and Senate approaches, providing abridged -- and even more misleading -- descriptions of both proposals:

House bill: Trying to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the country by enforcing immigration laws, and making illegal immigrants go home over time, with no increase in legal immigration.

Senate bill: Allowing the 12 million illegal immigrants in the country here to earn citizenship coupled with a doubling of legal immigration from 1 to 2 million a year and increased enforcement of immigration laws.

When faced with these two options, 64 percent of respondents chose the House bill, while 30 percent opted for the Senate legislation. These results led CIS to trumpet in a May 3 press release:

A new Zogby poll of likely voters, using neutral language (see wording on following pages), finds that Americans prefer the House of Representatives' enforcement-only bill by 2-1 over Senate proposals to legalize illegal immigrants and greatly increase legal immigration.

In his May 5 Monitor article -- "Minutemen's message on immigration: on a roll?" -- Wood uncritically reported these results using language nearly identical to the group's press release:

The group, which has dispatched hundreds of volunteers to patrol the US-Mexico border to help prevent illegal crossings, filled only a handful of cars, small trucks, and minivans at the outset -- but insists that a majority of Americans are fellow travelers when it comes to controlling immigration.

[...]

Recent polls would lend credibility to that assertion. A Zogby poll taken May 3 found that 71 percent of Americans feel that past border enforcement efforts have been grossly inadequate" while only 19 percent say the US has made a "real effort" to enforce such laws. By a 2 to 1 margin, likely voters prefer the "enforcement only" House bill that passed in December to current Senate proposals, which legalize illegal immigrants currently in the US and increase legal immigration quotas.

On the May 3 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs also touted the Zogby survey, saying, "A new opinion poll tonight shows that voters overwhelmingly believe the House of Representatives has a better plan than the Senate is considering to deal with illegal immigration and border security."

By contrast, a May 4 San Francisco Chronicle article reported the poll's results, but also noted that CIS "favors restricting immigration" and that the survey's results "run counter to other recent polls, which have found that Americans generally prefer combining tougher enforcement and a path to legal status for the undocumented."

Similarly, a May 4 Houston Chronicle article informed readers that the Zogby poll "runs counter to recent surveys by news organizations that show voters favoring a Senate plan to provide 'earned legalization' for about 10 million illegal immigrants." This article also noted that Manhattan Institute senior fellow Tamar Jacoby had criticized the methodology used in the survey:

The poll's methodology was faulted by Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Public Research, which is urging passage of the Senate bill.

"If you look at polling done by all the major polling organizations this past month, voters do think that illegal immigrants here should have a chance to earn their way to citizenship," Jacoby said. "There's been a sea change in public opinion."

Indeed, recent polls that more accurately describe the Senate compromise proposal have found substantial support for such an approach. For instance, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll conducted April 8-11 described the Senate bill as follows:

One proposal would allow undocumented immigrants who have been living and working in the United States for a number of years, and who do not have a criminal record, to start on a path to citizenship by registering that they are in the country, paying a fine, getting fingerprinted, and learning English, among other requirements.

Based on this description of the legislation, 66 percent of respondents said they supported it, while 18 percent opposed it.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted April 21-24 presented the Senate compromise bill in even greater detail. It laid out the three-tiered proposal for handling the current illegal immigrant population and explained that the legislation would tighten border security as well:

I'm going to describe a portion of a possible new immigration law, which also would include tighter border security. This law would deal with immigrants who are here illegally in three ways, depending on how long they have been in the United States. Those who have been here for more than five years would be allowed to continue to work here for six years, and then would be allowed to apply for permanent citizenship. Those who have been here for two to five years would be required to go to a legal border entry point and register sometime in the next three years, and would then be able to return to work. Those who have been here for less than two years would be required to return to their home country and apply for entry into the United States through the normal legal channels.

Based on this description, 66 percent of respondents supported this proposal, while 28 percent opposed it.

Media Matters for America has previously noted that in a May 2, 2005, Christian Science Monitor article, Woods quoted Minuteman volunteer Joe McKutchen but failed to inform readers of his white supremacist ties.

From the May 3 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: A new opinion poll tonight shows that voters overwhelmingly believe the House of Representatives has a better plan than that the Senate is considering to deal with illegal immigration and border security. The House bill focuses on border security, and it does not offer a guest worker program. The Senate legislation wants to give millions of illegal aliens amnesty through the creation of a guest worker program. The Zogby poll shows nearly two-thirds of Americans prefer the House bill. That poll also shows that 70 percent of voters believe the federal government has failed to enforce our immigration laws. The poll was conducted by Zogby International for the Center for Immigration Studies last month.

Posted In
Immigration
Network/Outlet
CNN, Christian Science Monitor
Person
Lou Dobbs
Show/Publication
Lou Dobbs Tonight
Stories/Interests
Polling
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