Immigration Drives Down Bush Poll Numbers
From the June 19, 2007 Chicago Sun-Times
June 19, 2007
by John O'Sullivan
This week President Bush's approval rating took a further tumble from a position that was already below sea level. At 28 percent in a Newsweek poll, it has collapsed to Jimmy Carter's level during the Tehran hostage crisis. Worse, it is now only five points ahead of Richard Nixon's during Watergate.
There is really no doubt about the cause of this decline: Bush's passionate support for a "comprehensive" immigration reform that most Americans reject with equal passion. As this column has pointed out before, one can trace an eerie link between immigration policy and Bush's unpopularity right back to the middle of his first term.
His approval rating peaked the day before he first introduced the original version of his immigration reform program. It then fell steadily for a while, recovering only during the 2004 election campaign.
It peaked again at a relatively modest 50 percent in January-February 2005 until he re-introduced his immigration program. Since then it has again fallen steadily.
How do we know that immigration rather than the Iraq war explains this collapse? Democrats would prefer to blame the war (where they differ with Bush) than immigration (where they urge him on). But the best evidence is the voters themselves blame immigration.
According to a Rasmussen poll, only 15 percent of voters believe Bush is doing a "good or excellent" job on immigration. That compares with 40 percent saying the same of taxes, 25 percent on health issues, and 27 percent on the handling of Iraq. So it's no coincidence every time Bush delivers a major speech on immigration, his popularity rating tumbles still deeper into the pit.
Unfortunately for other politicians, Bush is becoming a sort of Typhoid Mary on the issue. By joining with them to promote the Bush-McCain-Kennedy bill, the president infects them with unpopularity, too.
Senators McCain and John Kyl -- the two congressional Republicans most associated with the immigration bill now before the Senate -- have seen their "favorability/unfavorability" ratings get steadily worse both among all voters and among GOP supporters. McCain today is viewed favorably by only 55 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of Americans. His presidential campaign is visibly imploding.
That's small comfort to Democrats. As they emerged as Bush's crucial allies on immigration, they have shared his unpopularity. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has seen his approval rating fall to 19 percent. The Democrat-controlled Congress has reached levels of unpopularity that it took the GOP more than a decade of scandals to hit.
This collapse of stout reputations was eminently predictable -- given what Americans think of the immigration bill itself. Only 23 percent supported the bill in a recent Rasmussen poll and only 16 percent believed that it would do what they want: namely, strengthen the border and cut illegal immigration. The majority of Americans is right to be skeptical -- and vigilant, too.
Because hostility to the bill is so strong, the politicians have sought to disguise its true impact in various ways. The result is a legislative mess so complex and deceptive that it could be sold as a recreational game like "Monopoly" with its "Fast Path to Citizenship" provisions, "Get Out of Jail Free" amnesty, permanent temporary "Provisional Z Visas," and above all its incredible shrinking "triggers" for legalizing the illegals.
Concealed by these various devices is the central fact that 12 or more million people now in the United States illegally will become legal immediately if the bill is passed and "probationary Z" visas issued and eligible for Social Security and more than 60 means-tested welfare programs once the president certifies that the border is secure.
No one doubts that Bush, having endured deep unpopularity to get to that point, will issue the certification, however porous the border remains. That would impose an enormous fiscal burden on the American taxpayer. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation estimates that the eventual cost would be of the order of $2.5 trillion! Suppose that Rector's estimates -- and so far they have survived White House attempts to demolish them -- turn out to be half that level. They would still be a huge burden on today's Americans and their children and grandchildren.
Bush is pursuing a wildly irresponsible dream. Congress should tell him so. And for that to happen, Americans need to tell Congress.
John O'Sullivan was a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.
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