Lies, Damned Lies, And "Pollaganda"
May 28, 2007, 05:00 AM
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Immigration is back in the spotlight, which means Tamar Jacoby, the tireless shill for the Cheap Labor Lobby, is everywhere in the media. Right on cue, Jacoby was the subject of an effusive Washington Post profile by Krissah Williams with the dubious title An Advocate Rallies to Unify GOP. [May 21, 2007].

Two days later, Tamar was back in the Post, this time with an op-ed entitled Immigration's Future: The Senate Compromise Asks the Right Questions [May 23,2007].

In it, she claimed:

"As usual, those yelling "amnesty" are the loudest voices. But they are increasingly out of sync with the public on immigration. Poll after poll in the past year shows 60 to 85 percent of voters in favor of an overhaul that would allow illegal immigrants to earn their way to citizenship by meeting certain requirements …"

In reality, Tamar knows full well that the public is not at all happy with the Kennedy-Bush plan. The only way to get her kind of figures is to approach Americans with the most delicately manipulative questions that modern market researchers (I used to be one) can devise.

 (Indeed, at a panel discussion on immigration at American University, [April 24, 2007] Jacoby actually boasted of being involved in a long series of iterative focus groups designed to craft Bush Administration ploys that would get respondents to agree that the amnesty wasn't an amnesty. See the Manhattan Institute website for details. The focus groups, starting in 2005, involved Hispanic pollster Sergio Bendixen and immigration lobbyist Frank Sharry.)

Similarly, CNN TV host and  recovering cokehead immigration enthusiast Larry Kudlow happily claimed: "And, get this, 72 percent favor amnesty."

And Frank Newport, the "Gallup Guru", has also claimed: "Unusual but true. Senate immigration bill in sync with American public opinion."

Yet Gallup hasn't actually done a poll since Ted Kennedy announced his plan on May 17th. Newport is just guessing, based on previous Gallup research—which was fatally flawed.

Another example of the contortions pollsters go through to come up with the results that the Establishment wants: last Friday's New York Times article with the agitprop headline Immigration Bill Provisions Gain Wide Support in Poll [By Julia Preston and Marjorie Connolly, May 25, 2007].

This NYT/CBS News poll asked 20 (twenty!) leading questions about immigration before finally asking about policy. And, of course, the description of the proposed legislation leaves out objectionable features like the 24-hour-turnaround on evaluating applications and the tax amnesty.

Objection, your Honor, counsel is leading the witness!

After many years in the marketing research industry, I've had a lot of experience with bad polls. But in the breakfast cereal business, poorly designed questionnaires will eventually get you fired. In contrast, politicians and pundits are positively looking for pollaganda that can be spun as supporting their views.

The immigration enthusiasts were particularly flagrant last year. I devoted three articles to their immigration polling malpractice: first, second, and third.

The essential problem with most immigration polls is that the survey companies don't understand the public's concerns, and don't want to know. The questionnaire designers haven't thought about illegal immigration logically.

Why would they? In the media today, those who have thought long and hard about the subject are consistently denigrated as "angry." A heedless insouciance about the effects of immigration is fashionable because it suggests one's own status is above all that: If you are worried about competition from uneducated peasants, well, that just shows you're probably an uneducated peasant, too.

Thus, a typical poll will more or less start off by asking what should be done about the "12 million" illegal immigrants in the United States. (Objection! No-one knows the real number.)

Clearly, having that many illegal immigrants in the country represents a difficult problem. There is, however, one universal answer about what to do about a difficult problem:

Don't make it worse.

There's a standard distinction between a "stock" and a "flow." If, say, your firm's balance sheet at this point in time (the stock) is in the red, the first priority is to get your next income statement (the flow) in the black.

Similarly, if you have too many illegal immigrants right now, the last thing you want is more next year.

But that common sense approach has almost never informed poll design.

Until last week … with the new Rasmussen poll of May 21-22. As Pollster Scott Rasmussen explains: "From the beginning, the President and most other Beltway politicians have misunderstood the public debate over immigration."[ Bush Ratings Tumble When Immigration Dominates the News, Rasmussen Reports, May 21, 2007] Rasmussen, on the other hand, gets it.

After starting off with a question about how closely the respondent is following the immigration issue (an impressive 37 percent said "very closely" and 41 percent "somewhat closely"), Rasmussen asked directly about the new immigration reform agreement.

  • Only 26 percent supported it, while 48 percent opposed it.

So much for the Gallup Guru's suppositions!

Rasmussen explained:

"The bi-partisan agreement among influential Senators and the White House has been met with bi-partisan opposition among the public. The measure is opposed by 47% of Republicans [and] 51% of Democrats."[Just 26% Favor Senate Immigration Plan, May 23, 2007]

Then, Rasmussen cut to the heart of the matter with two questions:

  • A landslide 72 percent agreed that "Border Enforcement and Immigration Reduction" was "very important."
  • In sharp contrast, only 29 percent thought "Legalizing Status of Illegal Aliens" was "very important."

Rasmussen notes: "The enforcement side of the debate is clearly where the public passion lies on the issue."

The passion is broad-based. Border enforcement and immigration reduction is "very important" to 73 percent of whites, 81 percent of blacks, and 57 percent of other races (presumably mostly Hispanic and Asian), as well as 89 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Democrats.

"Legalizing status" is "very important" to only 27 percent of whites, 28 percent of blacks, and 47 percent of others. (It's noteworthy that the Hispanic/Asian group is at least as enthusiastic for immigration reduction as legalization of existing illegal aliens.) 

Rasmussen acerbically points out:

"Advocates of 'comprehensive' reform have taken to arguing that those who want an enforcement-only policy must explain how they would deal with the 12 million illegal aliens already living in the country. The public reaction to that question appears to be 'Why?'"

The pollster said in 2006: "While the President advocates a 'comprehensive' reform focused primarily on legalizing the status of illegal aliens, our most recent survey shows that most voters favor an enforcement first policy."

A 2006 Rasmussen poll found, "By a 3-to-1 margin, voters say it doesn't make sense to consider additional laws until the government first gains control of the borders and enforces existing laws."

The researcher spells it out for the politicians: "The challenge for proponents of the legislation is to convince voters that they are serious about enforcement and that the proposal will truly work. Until that can be accomplished, public opposition to immigration reform is likely to remain very high."

Having been badly snookered by the earlier "comprehensive immigration reform" of 1986, which turned out to be amnesty-only because corrupt politicians browbeat the INS into not enforcing the workplace requirements on big campaign contributors, the public wants enforcement now. Rasmussen does show that a majority will be willing to talk about "earned citizenship"—but only after enforcement has been working for a number of years. And they will first need to know the full costs of an amnesty to the American taxpayer—which, according to Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, could be in the trillions.

In contrast, the political and media establishment, while purporting to have public support on their side, are hustling the massive Kennedy-Bush bill through the Senate without any hearings to investigate its effects—precisely because they think that the normal legislative process would allow the public to learn of the legislation's fatal flaws.

Amusing side note: Rasmussen reports:

"Each time immigration reform dominates the news. President Bush's Job Approval ratings tumble to new lows. … Immigration adds to the downward pressure on his numbers in a unique way—immigration costs the President support among his base. Today, as the immigration debate formally begins in Congress, just 68% of Republicans give the President their Approval."

Bottom line: the public severely disagree with the politicians and the press because it takes a logical approach to the problem—turn off the faucet before starting to mop the floor.

Elite opinion, in contrast, is dominated by sentimentality and status-climbing—or worse.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]