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Misleading Politico immigration poll, spun by Mark Penn - 08/16/10

The Politico has released a poll [1] that asked people to choose from the following two choices (graphic with results below). The second choice is mostly clear-cut, but the first choice - to the extent it makes any sense at all - is open to multiple interpretations. Taken together, the poll question and the results are mostly meaningless:

Q. Which is closest to your views regarding immigration reform?
1. Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration law guidelines now.
2. Congress should take no action and allow states to pass restrictions on illegal immigration.

Amnesty is usually called comprehensive immigration reform, except in cases like the above where pollsters are trying to mislead people. What exactly do "immigration reform" and "comprehensive immigration law guidelines" mean to the various people who took the poll? Some polls spell out what comprehensive immigration reform would consist of, even if they omit its downsides. The choice above leaves it up to the respondents' imaginations.

Who, you might ask, could be behind such a misleading poll choice? Why, none other than former Bill Clinton pollster Mark Penn; the poll was conducted by his company. And, to accompany the poll and to mislead about it, he offers "Surprising demand for immigration reform" [2]

Fifty-nine percent of the general population wants to see action on meaningful reform, and so do 76 percent of D.C. elites. More notable in today’s partisan climate is that reform gets the nod from Democrats and independents in equal measure (61 percent of both think Congress should "pass comprehensive immigration law guidelines now") and that 59 percent of Republicans agree as well.

The word "meaningful" only appears in his article, not in the question. And, who knows whether respondents wanted something "meaningful" or something more limited? Further, whether respondents actually "agree" with one another is doubtful since the poll question left open what exactly it was referring to. No doubt most "D.C. elites" are aligned, but the same can't be said of those outside the Beltway.

[1] Currently at