May 31 2006

Face Facts: 80%-20% Is Not A Winning Position

I feel like politics in this country has entered the twilight zone. People I respected for brilliant logic and insight and top notch debate have become emotional, simplistically surreal in their proposals. The level of the discussion has dropped way down into fevered accusations in some places and pure denial in others. I was going to title this post “Denial: A Deep River In The Republican Party” because the fact so many people are rushing headlong against popular opinion and destroying the conservative movement. I hate to do this, but I must illustrate this by pointing to Paul Mirnoff’s recent post at Powerline to show the depths of this denial and its implications:

Matthew Dowd, a Republican strategist with an excellent track record, has produced a memorandum in which he argues, based on polling data, that Americans support a “comprehensive solution” to the problem of illegal immigration that includes reform on three fronts: strengthening enforcement at the border, creating a temporary worker program, and providing a way for illegals who are here now to obtain legal status. Dowd concludes that “Republican candidates succeed when they support taking [comprehensive] action on immigration.” He supports this conclusion by noting that, according to the poll, just 25 percent of voters are “more likely” to support a candidate who advocates only sealing the border, stopping illegal immigrants from entering, and imposing criminal penalties on immigrants. By contrast, 71 percent are “more likely” to support a candidate who wants to beef up border security, enforce laws against companies that hire illegals, and create a temporary worker program with safeguards against abuse.

Does this mean that conservatives should stop worrying and support the broad reform package proposed by the Senate and/or President Bush, and are doomed if they don’t? I don’t think so.

First, and obviously, one should not support a bad immigration reform plan regardless of its popularity. The poll results don’t speak to the merits of the Senate plan or the Bush plan.

Second, the poll results don’t persuade me that Republican candidates for Congress are doomeed unless they accede to the Senate’s plan or something similar. Candidates should easily be able to distinguish between the euphemistic “comprehensive reform” posited in the poll questions and the reality of the Senate’s Christmas tree bill. They should also be able to show the inadequacies of that bill’s enforcement provisions. Moreover, they need not embrace the punitive views expressed in the cartoonish alternative to Dowd’s favored position.

Paul’s position is simply denial of reality. The people cannot be right because the bill is ‘bad’. The problem with this logic is most people in this country are not crying fro retribution against people who have worked to make a living and raise a family. The folks who started with “deport the criminals”, and who moved on to “make the criminals felons”, and who have since moved on to “starve them out by making it impossible to get a job”, have rightfully been labled extremists. The anti-reasonable-solutions crowd is motivated by emotion, somne strange combination of a need for retribution and fear of a future they cannot control.

But the second part of the denial is even more stunning if you look at Dowd’s poll numbers:

Dowd’s memo says that an internal RNC poll conducted by Jan Van Louhuzen finds that “pverwhelming support exists for a temporary worker program. 80% of all voters, 83% of Republicans, and 79% of self-identified conservatives support a temporary worker program as long as immigrants pay taxes and obey the law.”

The last time I saw poll numbers this lopsided was when Dick Durbin referred to GITMO by referring to Nazis and the Khmer Rouge. 80-20 is not even close. Read the memorandum (linked in the Powerline excerpt) and realize Paul had to look across numerous questions and various polling sources to come to the conclusion there is not elections risk for going over the top and taking the extreme line here. No matter how the what-we-want-or-else crowd tries to dress up the issue, it is still tarnished with the rantings of people like Michael Savage and Pat Buchanan. Put Pat and Savage together and you get all the makings of a lynch mob.

Dowd said it right at the end of his memo:

“Finally, when discussing immigration reform, tone and language are extremely important. To continue to grow the party, we must conduct this debate with civility and respect for our nation’s heritage — as the President has said, we are both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. That is why the American people favor a balanced plan that secures the border, improves enforcement, enhances immigration avenues AND deals compassionately and equitably with those who are already here.”

And this is backed up by poll data itself:

Voters don’t consider granting legal status to those already here amnesty. Seventy percent (70%) of voters say illegal immigrants who have put down roots in the U.S. should be granted legal status after they go to the back of the line, pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English, and have a clean criminal record; just 25% say that would be amnesty and we should instead impose criminal penalties on illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Emphasis mine.  The extremists who think any sign of compassion (i.e., any deviation from humiliating people working without the proper papers) is ‘amnesty’ are a small minority.  The American People are a smart, caring, reasonable people who have led the world in many areas solving many problems.  When I see numbers like these in polls where emotion is not a driver (the Dubai Ports World issue was the one exception in many, many years) I see the wisdom of a great nation.  To some they see only the ignorant masses who are simply mistaken because the have not seen the light.

Well, from here it is not hard to see what happens.  The 25% who cannot stomach a comprohensive bill will destroy the governing coalition of conservatism.  In an 80-20 world you are never going to get what you want.  The anger in this minority and being rejected is hot and I doubt these people will ever be able to deal with losing.  The fact they have been forced to say democracy should not lead on this issue because there is not majority in the Republican caucus (which is being whipped by special iinterest money, not the national interest) shows the vacuousness of their position.  The shifting goal posts from mass deportations to starving them out of jobs indicates these people know, deep down they are losing this debate.  They do not have the President or the people on their side.  But my feeling is they have invested too much emotion to come back from the brink.  Somehow Durbin was able to survive is 80-20 moment.  The conservative coalition will not survive this I fear.  But if that is the price we pay to retain our humanity and compassion, then that is the price we pay.  So be it.

50 responses so far

50 Responses to “Face Facts: 80%-20% Is Not A Winning Position”

  1. For Enforcement says:

    Or just enforcing the laws? Well what does that mean exactly? When state and local and county and federal laws conflict how do you just enforce the laws?

    You don’t know what enforcing the law means. When you top a hill and there is a cop car there with a radar gun, that’s an example. There is almost never any conflict between state and local and county and federal laws. If there is, Federal law is supreme then on down. Usually it’s just a case of ‘nobody’ is enforcing anything. If the law says that someone that crosses the border illegally will be returned across the border, what that means is that someone that crosses the border illegally will be returned across the border. I don’t have any problem understanding that. 80% of the people don’t want illegals entering the country and are not in favor of rewarding them if they do. That’s all us “radicals” want. God it’s hopeless to think that we’ve gotten to the point that when wanting laws enforced is a “radical” idea. Why only a short time ago it was normal people that wanted laws enforced and “radicals” wanted something else entirely. But, we have gotten to: it is “radical” to want law enforcement.

  2. wiley says:

    I believe a reading of AJ’s blog “Face Facts: 80–20” reveals who is emotional and simplistic. Paul from Powerline is even-handed and logically spot on. Many polls are worthless, and most are heavily biased. This one appears to be no different, and why is it surprising that 80% favor comprehensive reform? Who wouldn’t? Of course, the problem is that the Senate bill that passed is definitively not comprehensive in terms of controls and border security.

    Part of the problem, as usual, is the terrible reporting by the MSM (read Samuelson’s piece in the 5/31 WaPo). Of course the Senate bill will never become law, but it would help if the folks being polled were clued in to some of the bill’s actual language and likely consequences (e.g. huge increase – tens of millions – in immigration numbers in coming decades; nothing more than short-term lip service at border security).

    AJ’s strange twist on Paul’s logic is … strange. Paul never indicated that the “people cannot be right because the bill is bad.” The people are right, but as Paul makes clear the bill isn’t truly comprehensive (thus the poll question is essentially meaningless, unless you are pushing a position – oh). So, congressman shouldn’t vote for a bad bill, nor should they have trouble explaining this to their constituents, whose foremost concern is border security and control. I think most are accepting of a guest worker program, but again, it needs to be defined.

    Yes, this is a heated issue but with a new twist — the emotions and contorted rants seem to be coming as much from the middle as from the left or right.

  3. AJStrata says:


    You cannot ‘bias’ an 80-20 scientifically conducted poll. An internet poll where anyone can vote can be biased. But not a professional poll – not to this degree.

    Try and stay within the bounds of reality. Mathematically, what you are claiming is impossible.

    48-53? Yes, that can have some fudge because that would be near or in the margin of error. Not 80-20.

  4. AJStrata says:


    Also, those huge increases in immigration may or may not happen. Those predictions are as valid as the Global Warming models and the Federal budget-deficits Congress generates.

    What you need to ask is what would be the difference between no bill and the comprehensive bill we will get? In terms of influx not much at all. There will still be immigrants.

    In terms of requiring them to assimilate, speak english, undergo background checks, pay taxes there is an enormous difference. The zero sum game you play means something. It means if you don’t get your way, which you won’t because 70% of the people disagree with you, you get nothing. Got it? you are not going to get what you want. You don’t have the support and as long as you have Michael Savage out there spouting off you will never get it.

  5. retire05 says:

    In all the polls, people say they perfer a guest worker program.

    Not one poll asks “do you favor allowing all those “guest workers” to have a path to citizenship or do you favor time limits”.

    How many of those polled do you think realize that the Senate bill provides for all of those who are now here in the U.S. a way to stay?
    Most people take the words “temporary” and “guest” literally. To say that you cannot “bias” a poll is flatout wrong. Polls are biased everyday to acheive the desired result. Example using two questions, both trying to acheive a different result:
    Do you want illegals deported? 80% will say yes.
    Do you want illegals round up and deported? 80% will say no.
    A simple twist to the same question and you have different results.

  6. AJStrata says:


    You are wrong about the polls. The poll I linked to said something like nearly 70% approved of a path to citizenship if these people learned english, paid their back taxes and started at the back of the line. All of which I agree with.

    All your rationalizations are not going to change those polls. You are in the 20% camp and the rest of us are in the 80% camp. It may shift to 30-70, but that is not what I would call a significant change.

  7. retire05 says:

    The polls sited on are the same polls used in your article.
    Fox News:
    Allowing illegal immigrants who have jobs in the United States to apply for legal, TEMPORARY-worker status:
    63% favor – 29% oppose

    Trying to send as many illegal immigrants back to their home countries as possible:
    55% favor – 31% oppose

    When asked if illegals strenghtened or weakened the U.S. economy 70% said “weaken”.

    CBS did not ask the question regarding temporary worker programs.

    Woud you favor or oppose creating a progabram that would allow illegal immigrants already lving in the United States for a number of years to stay in this country and apply for U.S. citizenship if they had a job and paid back taxes?
    79% favor – 18% oppose

    Are you going to tell me that most CNN viewers are conservatives?

    ABC: Did not ask about a temporary worker program.

    CBS asked two questions that could be applied to the temporary worker program:

    Would you favor or oppose allowing illegal immigrants who have done the following to stay and work in the United States: paid a fine, been in the U.S. for at least five years, paid any back taxes they owe, can speak English, and have no criminal record?
    77% favor-19% oppose

    Would you favor or oppose a new program allowing foreign workers to work in the U.S. on a “temporary” basis and then return to their home country?
    61% favor – 36% oppose

    The actual polls paint a very different picture that you do. Only one poll even asked about the “path to citizenship”.

  8. wiley says:

    This 80-20 mantra is meaningless because the basis of the poll question is false. The so-called comprehensive Senate bill is definitively not comprehensive. If it was comprehenisve with real controls and border security then we wouldn’t be having this discussion — a bill would be on it’s way to passage.

    It’s naive to think passage of the Senate bill would not result in a large increase in immigration (whether legal or not). You’re wrong about the estimates — tens of millions more (at the low end) over next few decades than if no law was passed. Logic (a huge carrot with low risk of being sent home) and empirical data (post the 1986 law) support this.

    And since when are these polls “scientific”? Yes, some are conducted well, but most are more art than science with leading questions and self-fullfilling just for the purpose of making headlines (e.g. , “Bush poll numbers fall even lower”). As stated many times, this 80-20 is meaningless because no comprehensive bill exists at present. It’s like asking Virginia voters if they favor a comprehensive transportation package. Of course they do. But what if voters found out that the “comprehensive” package included big tax increases and would allocate money for road maintenance and interchanges, as well as new public trnasportation projects (rail), but no new roads or even road widening. So how meaningful is that poll?

    By your replies to my posts you assume I’m opposed to a path to citizenship or a guest worker program — not true. It’s just that myself and the majority of voters feel the priority is control and border security — your polls support this. If we aren’t going to get a comprehensive reform bill, then lets start with the most important aspect first. Why does comprehensive reform need to happen at same time? If it can happen, then great. If not, lets get control of the situation and then figure out how to deal with the illegals. This is not radical, nor “zero sum”, and it’s where most Americans are.

  9. AJStrata says:


    The 80-20 poll is reality. That is not even close. And I can tell you one thing right now, whether the comprehensive bill passes or nothing passes, this country will keep ingesting immigrants. As people have pointed out, we don’t have the birth rate to keep our population at the size it is now. We all know more immigrants are coming. Some of just want to deal with it humanely, others like to pretend there are simple, catch phrase solutions (like ‘deportation’ and ‘enforce the law’). Life just ain’t that simple.

  10. wiley says:

    (Since you’ve posted more recent immigration related blogs this will be my last here. )
    Your infatuation with this 80-20 is really silly. It’s not much different than asking people if they like ice cream — of course they do. Just like most reasonable and mainstream folks would say they support a “comprehensive” immigration bill — duh! The conviction and passion you have for your position is obvious and commendable, but you put way too much stock in this meaningless poll question. In FACT — yes, fact — you are in the minority as to what the priority with immigration should be. If only one element of immigration reform could be passed, the vast majority (80%?) say to secure our borders. And note — this does not mean an end to immigration. And just as you are passionate with the path to citizenship, more folks (way more) are passionate about securing the borders. Do some research — this is fact and supported by polls.

    Yes, obviously we are going to have ongoing immigration — the question is do we gain a semblance of control over how much and who? or do we simply incentivize tens of millions more, above & beyond, what the current status is permitting in? And taking into account current immigration numbers, you are wrong about our birthrate supporting population numbers — with current immigration (and even a decline), the population will continue to grow at a similar rate as it has. We are not Eurpoe, thank God (we have a much higher birth rate than Europe and a population that lives longer).

    Lastly, you are also wrong if you think House members opposing the Senate bill will be at risk of losing thier race because of this issue. If they cave to the awful Senate bill — which we know will never pass — then many would be at risk of losing their seat.

    For some reason, you (& crosspatch & terreye, et. al.) want to paint those of us who want to ensure border security and control over immigration — not an end to immigration, nor deportation necessarily — as radicals or not in the mainstream. You are wrong. (This is baffling since you live in Herndon.)