Negative comments against immigrants tend to hurt the Republican party, says a new Latino Decisions/America’s Voice poll. (G. De Cardenas/Getty Images)

Poll: Immigration reform now top issue for Latinos, path to citizenship vital to winning their support

Latino voters want the President and Congress to address immigration more than any other issue, with 58 percent saying this is more important than jobs (38 percent), education (19 percent) and healthcare (15 percent). About a third of Latinos say it is (extremely) important it be addressed this year and 42 percent say it is (very) important to address this year. These findings come from the latest Latino Decisions poll out today.

“The takeaway for both parties from this poll is that immigration reform is a defining issue for Latino voters and a candidate’s position on this issue matters intensely” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director for America’s Voice Education Fund.

The poll shows that Latino voters currently do not approve of the work that Republicans in Congress are doing on immigration, even though some influential Republicans are moving in the direction of reform. Forty percent of registered Latinos “strongly disapprove” of the jobs Republican in Congress are doing and 18 percent somewhat disapprove, while only 25 percent approve in some way.

Sixty-four percent of Latinos think Republicans are responsible for blocking immigration reform over the last 10 years whereas only 10 percent blame the Democrats and an equal number say both parties are equally responsible.

RELATED: Jeb Bush’s new book “Immigration Wars”: No path to citizenship

Interestingly, 63 percent of Latinos would back a Republican presidential candidate who supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, over a Democratic candidate who does not, if a general election would be held today. Seventy-two percent would support a Democrat over 18 percent for a Republican if the Democrat supported a pathway to citizenship instead of a Republican candidate.

Similarly, 44 percent of Latino voters are more likely to support a Republican candidate in the future if the GOP takes a leadership role in immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship. Forty-two percent say the position on immigration would not influence their vote, and 8 percent say they would support a Republican candidate less if he/she supported reform with a pathway to citizenship. By contrast, 42 percent of Latinos say they would be less likely to support a Republican candidate who blocks immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. Thirty-seven percent said it would not change their vote either way.

“Democrats enjoy a huge advantage and have much to gain by enacting reform,” Sharry said. “But it’s also true that if Republicans in Congress help pass a law that includes a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million Americans-in-waiting, they have a chance to reset their image with Latinos.”

“Failure to do so, will represent a setback for Democrats but a near mortal blow to Republicans,” he added.

Fifty-two percent of Latinos they have voted Republican at some point in a state, local or national election. Yet 72 percent say Democrats have done a good job reaching out to Latinos whereas only 21 percent say Republicans have.

RELATED: Rubio, McCain disagree with Jeb Bush on legalization without citizenship

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