The survey examined 20 different strategies for dealing with immigration. All 20 of the policy options were campaign platforms promoted by one or more of the 2016 presidential candidates, as listed on their campaign websites. The candidates who promoted those proposals were not identified for survey respondents.
Policies SAGE Cons Strongly Support
More than four out of five of the politically engaged religious conservatives interviewed said that they would “strongly support” each of five immigration actions tested in the survey. Those approaches were:
- Strictly and consistently enforce existing immigration and border laws – 94%
- Rescind the Obama Executive Order that protects undocumented persons from deportation – 91%
- Stop giving government-funded benefits, such as welfare and health insurance, to undocumented immigrants in the US – 86%
- Increase the use of technology to help police the border – 82%
- Stop all federal funding for sanctuary cities – 81%
There were another five actions that at least half of the politically engaged religious conservatives said they would “strongly support.” Those included increasing the number of immigration enforcement agents (66%); implementing an electronic verification system to reveal the legal status of employees (65%); more tightly regulating and overseeing the Department of Homeland Security (60%); building a wall along the entire border between Mexico and the U.S. (53%); and using a biometric entry-exit system for visas (53%).
The survey identified another six policy approaches that a majority of the politically engaged religious conservatives – a group labeled SAGE Cons, which is an acrostic for Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservatives – supported either strongly or somewhat. The options that received more lukewarm support included the following:
- Deport all undocumented immigrants living illegally in the US – 40% “strongly” supported that plus another 35% who were “somewhat” supportive
- Eliminate birthright citizenship – 47% strongly and 30% somewhat
- Stop all immigration of Muslims to the US – 38% strongly, 36% somewhat
- Stop all immigration by Syrian refugees to the US – 45% strongly, 36% somewhat
- Limit immigration only to people who meet merit-based, economic-skill requirements – 40% strongly, 39% somewhat
- Provide non-citizen immigrants illegally living in the US a chance to register, pay fees and fines, learn English, pay taxes, and take tests to become legalized citizens after a specific number of years – 32% strongly, 36% somewhat
There were another four policy options that a majority of SAGE Cons rejected. Those options called for closing all privately-run immigration detention centers (12% strongly supported this option); reducing the cost of applying for naturalization to all immigrants (11% strong support); funding the return to the US of immigrants who were deported under protest (5%); and providing non-citizen immigrants illegally living in the US with additional benefits funded by the government (2%). All four of these proposals were articulated and supported solely by Democratic candidates.
Consistency between Views of Candidates and Supporters
In assessing the connection between which candidate proposed a particular action and how the respondent felt about that candidate, the overall correlation was fairly consistent. One way of measuring that connection is to evaluate the number a candidate’s immigration policy elements that his votes supported.
Eleven of the policy approaches Ted Cruz has advocated were tested. Of those, a majority of the people who said they would vote for Mr. Cruz were strongly supportive of 10 of the 11. The exception was deporting all undocumented immigrants living illegally in the US (strongly supported by 44% of Cruz voters). In addition, one other policy approach was supported by a majority of the Cruz voters but was not advocated by the Texas Senator: 62% strongly supported tighter regulation of the Department of Homeland Security.
Ten of the policy components Donald Trump has pressed for were tested. Of those, the SAGE Cons who said they would vote for Mr. Trump strongly supported all ten of those policy elements. However, a majority of his backers also strongly supported an additional five policy standards. Those included rescinding the Obama Executive Order that protects undocumented immigrants from being deported (strongly supported by 97%); increasing the use of technology to help police the US-Mexico border (87%); regulating and supervising the Department of Homeland Security more tightly (76%); using a biometric entry/exit system for visas (62%); and limiting immigration only to people who meet merit-based, economic-skill requirements (59%).
Eight of the proposals tested coincide with Marco Rubio’s immigration platform. His backers strongly support only five of those eight policies, and also strongly support four options offered by other candidates which he has not backed. The gap between Mr. Rubio’s pitch and the commitments his voters strongly support were rescinding the president’s Executive Order that protects undocumented immigrants from deportation (83% strongly support that action); ending federal funding for sanctuary cities (77%); ending government-funded benefits for undocumented immigrants (74%); and tighter oversight of DHS (58%).
In addition, the survey revealed that the only immigration stand endorsed by either Democratic candidate in the race that was also strongly supported by SAGE Cons was tighter regulation of the Department of Homeland Security. That idea was strongly embraced by 60% of the politically engaged religious conservatives, even though it is a proposal from Bernie Sanders, the self-described Socialist Democrat. Four other policies that were embraced by either Mr. Sanders or Hillary Clinton were strongly supported by no more than 12% of the SAGE Cons.
Relative Impact of Immigration Policy on Votes
After providing feedback on each of the twenty immigration policies, without being told which ones each of the candidates embraced, respondents were then asked to indicate which candidate’s overall immigration policy they favored. Immigration policies most closely coincided with voter support for Ted Cruz: 90% of the people that voted for him said they liked his immigration views best. Three-quarters of Marco Rubio’s voters (77%) indicated that they liked his immigration plank the most. Interestingly, although Donald Trump has received substantial media coverage for his controversial immigration stands, only half of his supporters (49%) stated that they liked his plan the best among the various options.
Ben Carson, a favorite among SAGE Cons who has struggled since his campaign underwent a major shake-up two months ago, drew support for his immigration plan from 81% of his voters – a higher proportion than any of the five remaining GOP candidates other than Ted Cruz. (John Kasich, the other contender, drew just 1% of the vote from SAGE Cons, rendering the reactions to his immigration plan from those supporters statistically unreliable.)
SAGE Cons Want Real Policy Change
In explaining the meaning of the survey results, lead researcher George Barna noted that the politically engaged religious conservatives clearly want substantial change in the nation’s immigration policies. “If recent patterns hold true, more than four out of five SAGE Con adults will turn out to vote. Immigration reform is one of the issues they care about. And they want our next president to implement an extensive slate of reforms regarding that issue. The survey showed that they strongly endorse 10 specific policies for change, and are generally supportive of 16 transitions in how we handle immigration.”
Asked if the widely reported anger and frustration of conservative Republicans means they would adopt any changes put on the table, Barna firmly dismissed that notion. “These voters have a well-defined philosophy of governance and are seeking proposals that square with that outlook. They are not simply embracing any change offered. The data show that they overwhelmingly rejected the proposals put forth by Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders, without being told those policies came from the Democratic candidates. The policies recommended by the Democrats simply don’t fit within the worldview and political framework of the SAGE Cons.”
Barna also pointed out that there is some overlap between the positions taken by the three remaining significant GOP candidates: Mr. Trump, Mr. Cruz, and Mr. Rubio. “All three gentlemen have proposed better enforcement of existing immigration laws, upgrading the number of immigration agents, using electronic employment verification systems, and deporting undocumented immigrants living illegally in the US. With the exception of that last idea, SAGE Con voters are strongly in favor of those strategies. Overall, there is more in common than is unique about the immigration strategies that Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump are advocating, while Mr. Rubio’s approach has some overlap but some divergence as well.”
About the Research
The survey was conducted online through the longitudinal panel of SAGE Cons respondents developed by American Culture and Faith Institute (ACFI), a division of United in Purpose, a not-for-profit located in northern California. The survey includes responses from 1,500 SAGE Cons collected between January 26 and February 8, 2016.
“SAGE Cons” is a label used to describe adults who are Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservatives. These individuals satisfy a set of standards regarding their political and religious beliefs and behaviors and have agreed in 2015 to participate in multiple surveys over an 18-month period related to the 2016 election. This panel is the first of its kind among conservative voters who are active in their Christian faith, politically conservative, and engaged in the political process.
ACFI is a non-partisan research organization that does not endorse candidates. As part of United in Purpose its objective is to educate people about the connection between American culture and the Christian faith, and to encourage Christians to play a more active, informed, and philosophically consistent part in the political process. For more information about ACFI, UiP, or this research, visit www.culturefaith.com.