Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Immigration and the Majority

At the Washington Post, Georgetown's Dan Hopkins uses survey data to show that Americans are actually not all that split on immigration. It's useful to disseminate that message as widely as possible, but it's not new at all. I've blogged about this numerous times, and way back in 2006 I referred to a Foreign Affairs article by Tamar Jacoby, quoting that very fact. She was wrong to predict quick action, but right to assert that there's no reason to be surprised by support for immigration reform.

A much better question to ask is why the belief persists in the face of so much contrary evidence. Part of the problem is that people get causation wrong. Since there is no reform, that must be caused by majority opinion against it. Instead, absence of reform has a lot to do with excessive political focus on a minority base opposed to reform. The media picks up on the extremes, and the public is left with the impression that the country is hopelessly divided when in fact it's not.

What we've seen, in effect, is tyranny of the minority, but a minority consistently--and successfully--peddling the notion that it's views are held by the majority (perhaps even a silent majority, to quote Richard Nixon). What Mitt Romney found--as everyone, including him, knew he would--is that he needed that minority to win the candidacy, but it became a liability in the general election.

Most Republican leaders seem to recognize this, which is why so many are talking openly about supporting reform. It required the trauma of losing the presidency to make it happen, but it happened. This may also mean that the message about a long-standing majority supporting reform will finally start to gain traction. We will have waited a long time.


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