Poll: Bush Base Erodes on Immigration Debate

President Bush's immigration reform package has badly damaged his ratings on the issue from his core supporters, with his approval rating for handling immigration plummeting among Republicans and conservatives.

Fewer than half of Republicans, 45 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, now approve of how Bush is handling immigration, down from 61 percent in April — that's a 16-point drop in six weeks. Just 35 percent of conservatives approve, down from 48 percent.

This marks one of the few times in his presidency Bush has received less than 50 percent approval from members of his own party on any issue in an ABC/Post poll. On handling the Iraq War, for comparison, he's never gone below 62 percent approval from Republicans.

This being politics, Bush has not received much concomitant gain from Democrats or independents, who are more favorably inclined toward some of his immigration proposals but not to Bush himself.

Among all Americans, just 29 percent now approve of his handling of immigration, a career low. And the public trusts the Democrats in Congress over Bush to handle the issue by 48 percent to 31 percent, essentially the same as in December.

Hot Potato

Congress takes up the immigration package this week, and it's clearly a contentious one, with divisions among political, ideological and other groups.

Overall, a narrow majority, 52 percent, favors giving illegal immigrants the right to live and work in the United States legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements, as Bush, in a compromise plan with Democrats, has proposed. But Republicans around the country oppose the idea by a 10-point margin, 53 percent to 43 percent.

Democrats, by contrast, favor it, by 57 percent to 38 percent.

Yet, the immigration plan may have something for everyone to dislike. Among people who support a legal status program, most Democrats and independents would not include a provision requiring illegal immigrants to return to their native country in order to apply to return legally. Republicans are much more apt to like that idea.

Welcome?

Overall, it's clear that most Americans are not anti-immigrant, but anti-illegal immigrant. While 55 percent think illegal immigrants do more to hurt than to help the United States, legal immigrants get a much warmer welcome: They're broadly — by 63 percent to 28 percent, or better than 2 to 1 — seen as helping the country.

In a departure from other political and ideological gaps, there's essentially no difference between Democrats and Republicans, or between liberals and conservatives, in the view that legal immigrants help the country. But there are differences in views of illegals; Republicans and conservatives view them negatively by especially wide margins.

In terms of legal entry for workers, there's modest support, 53 percent to 43 percent, for significantly expanding the guest worker program that provides temporary work visas to people from other countries — another part of the proposal. Support grows substantially — to 64 percent — if the program is targeted to specific industries in which the government determines there's a shortage of worker.

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