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Illegal immigration -- truly a partisan concern

September 12, 2007 |  2:47 pm

The new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll of voters in three states crucial to picking the next president underscores what has been evident by listening to the candidates -- the importance of the illegal immigration issue depends very much on one's partisan inclinations.

In a nutshell, the survey found that few Democratic-leaning voters in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina rate the matter -- which consumed much of official Washington earlier this year -- as the top priority for White House contenders. By contrast, a healthy slice of Republican-leaning voters in those states give it that ranking.

The findings help explain why illegal immigration rarely gets a mention among the Democratic presidential candidates, either in their speeches or during their debates. Conversely, the results make clear why it's a hot topic in the GOP race. Indeed, it recently sparked what CNN termed "the first real clash" between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, both of whom have mixed records on the issue.

The new poll found that in Iowa, 9% of those identifying themselves as Democratic voters chose illegal immigration as the numero uno subject the candidates should address. Among their GOP counterparts, the figure was 30% (putting it basically tied with the war in Iraq and protecting the U.S. from terrorists).

The gap was comparable in New Hampshire (5% of the Democratic electorate tabbed illegal immigration as the big issue, 25% of the Republicans did) and South Carolina (7% versus 23%).

A similar divergence was found on healthcare, but with the roles reversed -- especially in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Many more Democratic voters than Republican ranked that as the main priority for candidates.

Also in those two states, Democratic voters -- by large margins -- singled out the war in Iraq, rather than guarding against terrorist attacks on the homefront, as the issue they wanted the candidates to focus on. But the GOP voters in Iowa and New Hampshire gave each subject roughly equal weight in their rankings.

For all the numbers on how those polled rate the issues, see question 37 here.

The survey was conducted Thursday through Monday. In most cases, the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5 percentage points; among Iowa Democrats, it was 4 percentage points.

-- Don Frederick

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