Get out your salt shakers.
Two new polls from conservative organizations, the Hispanic Leadership Network, and the Libre Initiative, purport to show overwhelming Latino support for a Marco Rubio-style alternative to the DREAM Act and dissatisfaction with the country’s direction.
But polling experts said both are thinly disguised and unscientific “push polls” aimed at generating media coverage that distorts reality.
“Those are both 100 percent partisan push polls,” University of Washington political science associate professor Matt Barreto told The Huffington Post. “The question wording reveals to me that they already had an answer they wanted to get and they wanted to collect some data to show that it was true.”
The groups releasing the polls, however, defended their results and methodology.
“They weren’t at all leading questions,” Jose Mallea, a national coordinator with the Libre Initiative and former Florida director for Newt Gingrich’s campaign, told The Huffington Post. “The statement we asked them, when we asked if it’s a true statement, were not in any way slanted in one way or another. We asked the position statement as we thought they were best represented in an unbiased manner and then asked them to choose.”
Independent pollsters and academics, however, questioned the objectivity and scientific technique of the pair of polls from the Republican-leaning Libre and the conservative HLN co-founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“This is a pretty standard practice of cherry-picking from legitimate results to tell a partisan ideological story,” Southeast Missouri State University political science professor emeritus Russell Renka told The Huffington Post. “It’s designed to promote a conservative point of view and of course it does. They can always use these kinds of things to kind of back up their particular version of events.”
The more recent of the two, a survey of 1,000 likely voters released Thursday by HLN, found that a “substantial majority of Republican, independent, Democratic and Hispanic voters nationally favor an alternative to the DREAM Act that allows children of undocumented immigrants to earn legal status with a work visa and no chain migration, over a version that provides permanent residency status leading to citizenship and includes chain migration,” according to a press release.
Conducted by the Republican-leaning firm North Star Opinion, the HLN poll showed support of “55 to 32 percent, including 58 to 24 percent among Republicans, 57 to 33 percent among Independents, 52 to 39 percent among Democrats, and 57 to 33 percent among Hispanics.”
Florida Sen. Rubio this month began floating the idea for a Republican DREAM Act which would allow children of undocumented immigrants to acquire a non-immigrant visa permitting them to stay in the country while they apply for residency and, eventually, citizenship. It stops short of a Democratic-backed DREAM Act which would offer citizenship to those children who completed two years of college or military service.
“It’s a non-immigrant visa, so it doesn’t put them on a path in and of itself to residency and then citizenship,” he told McClatchy Newspapers. “But it does legalize their status, it wipes out any of these immigration penalties that they might be facing, and it allows them to go on with their lives with some level of certainty.”
As the poll was released Thursday, Rubio gathered reporters in his Capitol office to push for support within the GOP for his proposal.
His plan has elicited only a cautious response from Mitt Romney’s campaign. “Governor Romney will study and consider any proposals on immigration from his Republican partners,” Andrea Saul, a campaign spokeswoman, told the New York Times. “We must work together on protecting and strengthening legal immigration, securing our borders, ending illegal immigration in a civil but resolute manner, and ensuring that any reforms do not encourage further illegal immigration.”
The HLN’s executive director, Jennifer Korn, however, told The Huffington Post that the poll served to show both parties that voters strongly support a Rubio-style solution, but shy away from the full-citizenship option of existing DREAM Act language.
“We want to help these children because it’s not fair that they’ve been brought here,” said Korn, “but at the same time jumping to the front of the line when people are waiting in line doesn’t seem fair. So this seems like a good solution.”
Renka, however, told The Huffington Post that the poll’s results were misleading.
“If you’ve got a Jeb Bush organization,” he said, “they’re going to naturally put forward that portion of poll information that looks like it supports Republicans’ actions, not Democrats’ actions in Congress on the immigration issue or other concerns of the Hispanic citizens, and that’s what they’ve done.”
“They’re trying to get a discussion going,” said Barreto, “that there is support for the fake-DREAM Act. And so by demonstrating that they asked the public if they liked the idea and some people say yes, they can try to spin that and maybe get some folks to start pushing that issue.”
The HLN poll comes on the heels of one conducted in March by the Libre Initiative, a months-old organization headed by a former Bush administration White House staffer, Daniel Garza. The poll, conducted March 13-19 by the Tarrance Group, asked 500 likely Hispanic voters across the nation their feelings about the economy and big government, among other things.
According to a press release announcing the results, “51% of Latinos said things in the U.S. are off on the wrong track, while just 40% say things are moving in the right direction.”
It also found that Hispanics are “highly pessimistic” that their children will be “better off financially,” and that 56 percent believed that “less rather than more government involvement” would be better.
But Gary Segura, a Stanford University political science professor and Barreto’s partner in the non-partisan Latino Decisions polling firm, said both polls are part of the GOP’s national initiative aimed at reducing President Barack Obama’s overwhelming support among Latino voters.
“Essentially what they’re trying to do is stop this narrative which says that Gov. Romney has this huge problem among Hispanics and that there’s very little he can do to turn it around, given all the things that he’s said,” Segura told The Huffington Post.
Most recent national polls, including the Libre Initiative’s show Obama leading Romney by a wide margin. In a recent Fox News Latino/Latin Insights poll, likely Hispanic voters said they favored Obama by a margin of 70 percent to 14 over Romney. Libre Initiative’s put Obama’s lead at 60 percent to 31 percent over an unnamed Republican nominee.
Both Romney and the GOP recognize the importance of the Latino vote. This month, the Republican National Committee launched a Hispanic outreach initiative in six key swing states, to try to close the gap.
Romney put it in no uncertain terms. At a fundraiser in Palm Beach, Fla., over the weekend, he said the polling gap “spells doom for us.” “We have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party,” he said, and suggested a "Republican DREAM Act" might be the way to do it.