Monday, November 26, 2007

The Washington Post recently did an interesting set of polls on the attitudes of voters in Maryland and Virginia toward immigration. While almost seventy percent of those polled believe that the federal government is not doing enough to deal with "illegal" immigration, there are also interesting and complicating divisions in some of these poll results:

In Virginia, where immigration emerged as a top issue in last week's General Assembly elections, almost two-thirds of respondents want local police to get involved in immigration enforcement by checking the immigration status of people they suspect of a crime and think may be undocumented, even if that meant fewer illegal immigrants would cooperate with authorities.

More generally, 48 percent of Virginians think immigrants, not just illegal immigrants, strengthen the country and 46 percent call them a burden. In Maryland, a bare majority, 51 percent, said immigrants are good for the country, while 42 percent said they are a burden.

The polls find the biggest differences in attitudes are within, not between, the two states.

In Northern Virginia, 63 percent of respondents said immigrants strengthen the United States, while far fewer, 41 percent, of those in the rest of the state said so. And even within Northern Virginia, where the influx of new immigrants has been steepest, there are widely divergent views. Almost seven in 10 in Fairfax County said immigrants help the country, but the number saying so in Prince William County was 49 percent.

There is a similar divide in Maryland. Half of Montgomery County residents said new immigrants have made their community better, far more than said so in Prince George's (32 percent) or Anne Arundel (29 percent) counties.

Other interesting statistics:

Among white Democrats, almost six in 10 said immigrants strengthen the country, while African Americans are evenly divided. White Democrats are also more likely than black Democrats in both states to say new immigrants have made their communities better places to live. Conversely, black Democrats are more likely to want their state and local governments to pass measures to address illegal immigration.

In Virginia, where more than half of all respondents reported having "a great deal" or a "moderate" amount of contact with new immigrants, 13 percent called immigration either the state's top or second-most important issue. Only 5 percent of Marylanders said the same.

Virginians in regular personal contact with recent immigrants were more likely to cite immigration as a major concern. And in certain areas that have experienced large influxes of immigrants in recent years, such as Prince William County, attitudes are particularly negative.