As Congress debates immigration reform, a union releases ads in several states.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As Congress debates immigration reform, a union releases ads in several states. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Attention Congress: Immigration top Latino voter priority among all parties

Without prompting or getting a choice of answers, more than half of Latino registered voters – 55 percent – say immigration reform should be the top priority for the President and Congress. This is a “very” or “extremely important” priority for almost 8-in-10 Hispanics.  And it is not just a Democrat or liberal issue  – 80 percent of  Independent, 58 percent of Hispanic Republicans  and over 70 percent of Latinos who have voted Republican previously say it is a “very” or “extremely important. “

“It’s not tempering, it’s intensifying,” says Clarissa Martinez de Castro, of the National Council of La Raza, in discussing the poll’s findings and the importance of immigration as an electoral issue.

The results are part of a newly released poll conducted by Latino Decisions and commissioned by America’s Voice — a progressive organization advocating immigration reform.

More than half of Latinos have an undocumented  family member, and more than 8 in 10 support comprehensive immigration reform, including 92 percent of naturalized citizen voters.

“The immigration issue is a key lens through which Latinos are evaluating the President, the Democrats and the Republicans,” says Latino Decisions co-principal and political scientist Matt Barreto.

The Latino vote could be a deciding factor in a number of Senate and gubernatorial races in 2014. In states like Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Florida and Michigan, Hispanic voters could also be decisive in about 30 House districts.

The poll finds party favorability was closely tied to immigration.  Sixty eight percent of voters polled had a favorable view of Congressional Democrats and 65 percent approved of how they handled immigration. Yet only 33 percent had a favorable view of Congressional Republicans and only 26 percent approved of the GOP’s handling of immigration.  Obama had 77 percent favorability, and 71 percent saw his immigration policies favorably.

In recent polls, however, Latino voters are willing to support Republican candidates who take a leading role on immigration reform. “These findings are very real and very stable,” says Barreto.

The poll finds that while only 7 percent of Hispanic voters “strongly approve” of how Congressional Republicans handle immigration policy, the number rises to 24 percent when the voters are told that 3 Republican Senators voted in favor of the Senate immigration reform bill. Conversely, “strong disapproval” of Congressional Republicans drops to 16 percent from 36 percent when voters are told 3 GOP Senators voted for the bill.

Almost half of Hispanics who have voted Republican in the past say they are more likely to vote Republican if the GOP leads on immigration reform with a path to citizenship. This also includes over half of Latinos making more than $80,ooo a year. Conversely, almost a quarter of Latino Republicans would vote for a Democrat if the party takes the lead on reform.

If immigration fails to pass, 48 percent say they would blame both parties, and almost four in ten would put the blame on the Republicans.

While some Senate and House Republicans want to enact much more stringent border security measures before a pathway to citizenship is made available to undocumented immigrants, this is rejected by a strong majority of Hispanics.

Eighty one percent of registered Latino voters, including 76 percent of those who have voted Republican in previous elections and 78 percent of non-Mexican voters, want a path to citizenship and secure borders at the same time as part of the reform package.

“It is clearly a galvanizing issue for Latino voters,” says Martinez de Castro, adding that “at the end of the day, it’s also a roadmap for future voters – 900,000 Latinos will turn 18 each year,” she says.

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