A few weeks ago, this column featured a result from an ABC/Washington Post poll suggesting increased support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
This was a noteworthy finding on an issue with strong culture wars overtones. Indeed, we might have expected tough economic times to inflame cultural prejudices, thereby promoting intolerance of immigrants. Instead, the reverse seems to be taking place, as confirmed by new polling from the Pew Research Center.
Their just-released 2009 Values Survey shows that 63 percent favor “providing a way for illegal immigrants currently in the country to gain legal citizenship if they pass background checks, pay fines, and have jobs,” compared to just 34 percent who are opposed. That’s up from a 58-35 split on the issue in December of 2007.
Maybe the culture wars really are subsiding. The Pew survey provides more evidence. It shows “moral values” declining precipitously among the public as a voting issue. In November 2004 Pew found a plurality of respondents (27 percent) saying moral values were their most important voting issues. That figure has dropped to 10 percent in the new survey, which is a decline of 17 points. In contrast the economy/jobs is up 29 points as a voting issue, health care is up 8 points, and education is up 6 points.
Perhaps the decline of moral values voters has allowed the immigration issue to emerge from the shadow of the culture wars and be considered on its own merits. If so, that’s a very good thing for our country and for sound public policy.