Party Labels Rule Rural Opinions On Immigration

Grantees in this story

Partisan labels distort what rural voters think about immigration, according to the National Rural Assembly Poll released September 24.  Rural voters generally support the Democrats' position when there is no party label attached. When positions are labeled as Republican or Democratic, they prefer the Republican.

The poll, funded through a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York, posed questions about immigration in nine states with significant rural populations. Democrats have a more popular position on immigration in rural America — until that position is linked with the Democratic Party.

According to analysis in the Daily Yondera publication of the Center for Rural Strategies, a non-profit media organization based in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and Knoxville, Tennessee, rural voters support the Democratic position when no party label is attached. When positions are identified by party, however, voters prefer the Republican position.

When it comes to taking a position on immigration issues, it’s not what people think, it’s what their parties believe that matters most.

When party labels are attached to positions on immigration, however, a majority of rural voters agree with the Republican Party. Partisan labels move how people decide immigration positions by more than 10 percentage points.

Rural Americans, who are largely Republican, don’t think immigration—illegal or otherwise—is a significant campaign issue.  And they have mixed opinions about immigration.

Overall, the rural voters questioned in the National Rural Assembly poll believe Mitt Romney does a better job of “representing your views on illegal immigration.” Romney leads President Obama 49 percent to 31 percent on this question.

Sixty percent of rural voters said that illegal immigration was a small problem in their community (17 percent), or not a serious problem at all (43 percent). 

Nearly two-thirds of rural voters (63 percent) say immigration is “good for America.” A slight majority (45 percent to 42 percent) say immigration is good for the U.S. economy.

Seven out of ten rural voters, however, support laws “like the ones in Arizona and Alabama that allow local law enforcement officers to check the papers of people they suspect are illegal immigrants.” But they also support a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrant children and they oppose (62 percent to 31 percent) a constitutional amendment that would eliminate citizenship for children of illegal immigrants.

Rural voters are less sure that immigration is good for “rural America,” 50 percent to 45 percent. And a majority of rural voters in the nine states surveyed (50 percent to 37 percent) say immigration is bad for the rural economy.

The closer the immigration question comes to home, the more wary rural voters become. Neverthless, rural voters agree, 59 percent to 31 percent, that the “growing diversity of the country is good for America.”

To read the full poll, click here.