The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Inside The GOP: Why Boehner Is Halting Immigration Reform

Just a year ago, the GOP appeared poised to rebrand itself as a more moderate and inclusive party. When the party released its “post-mortem” report on the 2012 election, one of the key findings was that the Republican Party “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” And if you look at the numbers — demographic data and opinion surveys — you would say they were right.

So why did Speaker Boehner put a halt to any immigration reform this week? If you want to understand it, or fully capture the context for Rep. Raúl Labrador’s (R-ID) widely reported belief that “it’s a mistake for us to have an internal battle in the Republican Party this year about immigration reform,” you need to get inside the base of the Republican Party.

Support for immigration reform among all voters remains high—last week’s CNN/ORC poll found that 54 percent of adults nationwide would support a plan to allow those already in the country to become legal residents. Add to that employment, fluency in English, and back taxes, and support jumps to 81 percent.

But if you look at how this issue breaks down by party, just a third (34 percent) of Republicans say we should create a way to accommodate those already here. By contrast, 55 percent of Independents and 69 percent of Democrats believe there should be a way for those already here to become legal residents. The problem lies within the Republican Party—that same survey found just 29 percent of Tea Party supporters favor a path to legal residency.

Last summer, we conducted a major national survey and 6 focus groups among members of the Republican Party. What we found made us skeptical that House Republicans would take any action on immigration reform in the near future.


Moderate Republicans—who do support immigration reform—comprise just a quarter of the Republican Party. The core of the Republican Party (around 70 percent) is comprised of Evangelicals and Observant Christians, (47 percent) and Tea Party members (22 percent).

The activists who will vote in primaries and in the election next November are dominated by Evangelical and Tea Party adherents—and they staunchly reject immigration reform.

The whole notion is anathema to Evangelical Republicans, where this hits at the core. As they told us in our focus groups last summer,

“Don’t come here and make me speak your language. Don’t fly your flag. You’re on American soil. You’re American.”; “You come to our country, you need to learn our language.” (Evangelical man, Roanoke).

Why should I put “press 1” if I want to speak in English? You know, everything—every politically correct machine out there says, “Press 1 for English. Press 2 for Spanish.” (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

And among Tea Party Republicans, immigration reform sounds like another plot to boost both the welfare rolls—and the rolls of the Democratic Party.

There’s so much of the electorate in those groups that Democrats are going to take every time because they’ve been on the rolls of the government their entire lives. They don’t know better. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)

Moderates are not only open to immigration reform, but welcome it as a smart economic policy and as the only practical way forward. As moderate Republicans in our focus groups told us,

“I mean I don’t think it’s feasible to say, send everybody home;” (Moderate woman, Raleigh)

I mean it’s a huge struggle to get here illegally so I think if they are here illegally…they are not leaving. And that means they are going to be putting a toll on our roads…taking up space in classrooms…so it would be nice if they were legal and they actually could be contributing to that tax circle…I just think getting them a path to that would be great. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)

But these are not the constituents John Boehner is thinking about right now—nor should he be. He is listening to the anti-immigrant Tea Party members and Evangelicals—the real base of the Republican Party.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

What Swing Voters Care About Now

1.   The economy is still very difficult for voters at the pocketbook level. This economy is still very painful for people. In focus groups with swing voters who watched the president’s speech with us, participants were very graphic about their personal financial situations and economic outlook.  They are very much on edge financially, which is their dominant context because they live it every day. Every speech needs to start from a place that understands this is not theoretical or ideological, but tangible and painful for people.

You can’t survive on one income. You can’t buy gas.
I work 7 days a week to afford my house, my car.
Often times I worked 5 jobs, never saw the kids. They raised themselves. A majority of politicians don’t understand the hardship.

2.   The president can highlight economic progress without taking credit. For the first time since 2009, the president was able to highlight good economic news without shutting voters down; these voters in Denver applauded it. In past exercises, we have found that when President Obama takes credit for progress on the economy in these times, voters react badly and view him as out of touch. The president thread a very careful needle in this speech and it worked. These voters are open to the president’s celebration of good economic news, as long as the president does not take credit for it.  The way President Obama framed current economic growth was through business, not government – businesses hiring again and jobs coming back to America was news these voters were willing to celebrate. We should not underestimate voters’ responses—this was a major turning point.


3. Voters are aware of, and concerned about, the decline of the middle class. One of the biggest shifts came when President Obama talked about a decade of stagnation, and the need to reignite the middle class and restore the basic middle-class bargain. All respondents (including Republican-leaning participants) responded to this. But the president lost the Republicans in our audience when he said that the government works on behalf of the many, not just the few. They came back, however, when he returned to the values of free enterprise.


4. Voters support a growth agenda rather than an austerity agenda. Voters showed strong support for growth and jobs when the president asserted that “deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.” The electorate is ready for a growth agenda that creates good, middle-class jobs, and this was clear in their responses to specific policy items. Every time the president mentioned investment, our swing voters in Denver were very receptive—investment in manufacturing, science, and infrastructure all got positive support. One of the strongest responses came when the president talked about not cutting funding for education, job training, Medicare, and Social Security benefits. On that point, independents and unmarried women responded most sharply, climbing above the Democrats’ line. The only group to respond negatively was the Republican bloc in our audience, which proved an outlier on many of these items.



5. Voters are looking for a balanced approach. Taken in the context of the sequester, there is significant support for President Obama’s balanced approach rather than the Republicans’ cuts-only approach to deficit reduction. Voters, especially unmarried women, responded with deep concern to the potential budget cuts. And the president got broad support when he talked about replacing reckless cuts with smart savings. He also won the voters in our audience when he talked about getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and the well-connected. This balanced approach was met with a great deal of approval from our audience, who fully grasped the contrast between closing loopholes for the wealthiest versus cutting retirement benefits for those who cannot afford it.


6. There is strong support for further and more progressive tax reform. There is strong support for reform, including closing loopholes and instituting the Buffett rule, to make sure the wealthiest pay their fair share. At the end of the speech we saw big shifts in support for the president in supporting the middle class and handling the economy.



7. Raising the minimum wage is a good start. Given the ongoing stagnation and difficulties at the middle and bottom of the income spectrum, voters are looking for policies that will grow the economy from the bottom up. Raising the minimum wage produced a strong result among all groups except Republicans. Democrats reacted very favorably, as did independents and unmarried women. When the president proposed linking the minimum wage to the cost of living all groups, including Republicans, spiked.



8. Unmarried women are the most engaged on their issues. When we have conducted similar exercises in the past among unmarried women, their movement on the dials presaged their level of engagement and openness to voting for Democrats. During the 2012 campaign, they were more tentative and more closely aligned with independents. In sharp contrast, unmarried women in our group in Denver moved in close concert with the Democrats, and climbed even higher than the Democratic line at several key moments—including when the president talked about his growth and investment agenda, not allowing the painful sequester cuts to hit programs like education and job training, not cutting entitlement benefits for those who need it most, and closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and well connected.



9. Republicans are on a path different from all others on economic and budget choices. The president’s call to raise taxes on the wealthiest instead of making reckless cuts to education received strongly positive responses from all groups except the Republicans in our audience. On these measures, all of the dials rose while the Republican line dropped. In several key places in the speech, Republican lines moved in the opposite direction of all other lines: “consumers, patients and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before”; “this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few”; “deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan”; “by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans”; “the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs”; “no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty — and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.” The point is not that Republicans were less receptive to the president’s speech than those who voted for him. We expected that. The striking observation is that these Republicans were unquestionably moving in the opposite direction as everyone else in the room. There is a difference between the points at which the Republican lines moved in unison with, just several octaves below, Democrats and Independents, and the points at which all lines moved up while Republican lines dropped.


10. Voters are receptive to smarter government that invests in broad-based growth. This is not 2010, when voters looked to punish the president for a lagging economy, the health care law, or high spending. While their trust in government has eroded, voters seem very open to the president’s call for smarter government that tackles big issues. For now, voters seem ready to support both his short-term plan and his long-term vision for restoring the economy.


Voters Sick Of Crisis Politics, Want A Balanced Solution To Sequester

The public wants Congress to put aside crisis-to-crisis politics and start acting on behalf of the middle class, seniors, and working families, rather than the wealthiest Americans.

Two weeks ago, we watched President Obama’s State of the Union address with 44 swing voters (including 11 unmarried women) in Denver, Colorado. As they watched the speech, the voters registered their moment-to-moment responses using state-of-the-art perception analyzer technology.  After the speech, we conducted in-depth focus groups with the participants.

Nearly all of the voters in the group liked what they heard. Even those who began the night skeptical of the president left the speech hopeful that he will take action on some of his key policy proposals. Unmarried women, in particular, could not understand how Washington could let a series of brutal cuts happen as the recovery lags and many are struggling to make ends meet.

Here are some of the strongest reactions the group had to the president’s speech.  Watch for Democrats line in blue, independents in green, Republicans in red, and unmarried women in yellow.

The Sequester

Voters react sharply against sequester cuts. Independents and unmarried women spiked high when it came to protecting education, jobs training, Medicare and Social Security.

Equal Pay

Democrats and Independents responded strongly when the president talked about pay equity. Unmarried women were especially responsive, hitting 93 out of 100 on the dial meter.

Minimum Wage

The president’s call to raise the minimum wage produced a huge spike in support among Democrats, Independents, and unmarried women, while Republican lines dropped.

Closing Loopholes

Democrats, Independents, and unmarried women spiked on closing tax loopholes that benefit the “well off and well connected.”

Voting Rights

The fundamental right to vote got a big response from all lines as the president related the story of the 102-year-old voter who waited hours to vote. Unmarried women surpassed all others, topping out at 88.

James And Stan Dissect The Rubio Debacle

In a post-speech phone conversation between New Orleans and Washington, James and Stan expressed amazement at the State of the Union response delivered by Florida senator Marco Rubio, touted as a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

They were not impressed.

To James, Rubio’s speech demonstrated that the Republicans “are literally, totally out of gas. The [November] election meant nothing, it was the same speech that Romney would have given, the same speech [George] W. Bush could have given, anybody else. They seem to have one speechwriter for the entire party…If it wouldn’t have been for the visuals of wiping the face, sweating and the water… you wouldn’t know… you wouldn’t know anything kind of happened…”

Rubio made Stan think “someone too young got into the Capitol and wasn’t supposed to be there. Then he gets himself caught between these big tall arches in the Capitol and…stole himself some water.”

“They could have had anyone in the world deliver that speech,” James pointed out. “It could have been competently delivered and everything, there was still nothing in there. There wasn’t a thing that anyone could have seen and thought, ‘You know, I think differently about these people.’”

“So their lesson from the election,” asked Stan, “is that you throw Rubio up there and have him mutter some Spanish words?”

“It’s not only that,” replied James. “What that speech told me is that they think people are just looking for more of the same from Republicans. We want more of the same. We want to continue calling Obama a socialist, we don’t care about the climate… there is nothing in there that says this is a party that’s adjusting…”

“Did you miss how many times he said ‘middle class’?” Stan inquired. “This is the change… he spoke some Spanish words and uttered ‘middle class’ repeatedly.”

“Was there a single thing in there that would make you say, ‘Oh, there’s something different here’? It was like, all we [Republicans] need to do is get someone with a vowel at the end of their last name, minus about 30 [years], and give the same speech we’ve always given.”

“And everyone who does theses speeches, whether it’s [Rep. Paul] Ryan, Rubio, you know, they come up with the same stuff,” said Stan. “And it’s just empty.”

James noted that at least Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal should get credit for acknowledging that he belongs to “the stupid party.” But he added, summing up: “I am utterly flummoxed that a party could learn so little.”

Audio of the call is below:

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Obama Regains National Lead In Our New Pre-Debate Poll — And We’ll Tell You Why

Today, just hours before the final debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, we’re unveiling a new Democracy Corps poll that shows the president with a 3-point lead. But we have a lot more to say than that. We explore in detail just why we think our new national survey means more than many others—especially the Gallup poll that got so much attention showing Romney ahead—and exactly how President Obama can close the deal in tonight’s showdown.

How The Republicans Blew Their Traditional Tax Advantage

In our first video conversation for the Carville-Greenberg Memo, Stan and I talk about the big campaign issue that usually helps Republicans a lot more than Democrats — taxes. This year, however, the GOP has no detectable advantage on this issue, according to our polling data. But why would that be? How has Mitt Romney spoiled taxes for his party? And exactly what did Paul Ryan say that made us both crack up laughing?…

Where’s The Bounce? Democrats In Charlotte Can Still Boost Obama

In the midst of dueling party conventions, scheduled back to back in a very tight presidential race, it is clear that a convention “bounce” can make an important difference this fall. Here’s how and why…


Stan Greenberg Lays Out Obama’s Mission In Charlotte [Video]

In this new video, Stan Greenberg previews the strategy memo that he and James Carville are preparing on what President Obama needs to accomplish at the Democratic Convention – and how Democrats can win in November.

“We can move back in the lead by doing some pretty clear things that take advantage of the structure of this moment,” says Greenberg. Be sure to sign up for the Carville-Greenberg Memo, providing the exclusive insights, fresh data, expert analysis, and vivid commentary from two of the most respected political professionals of our time — all for free.

WATCH: Top Democratic Pollster Stan Greenberg Lays Out Obama’s Mission In Charlotte

In this new video, Stan Greenberg previews the strategy memo that he and James Carville are preparing on what President Obama needs to accomplish at the Democratic Convention – and how Democrats can win in November.

“We can move back in the lead by doing some pretty clear things that take advantage of the structure of this moment,” says Greenberg. Be sure to sign up for the Carville-Greenberg Memo, providing the exclusive insights, fresh data, expert analysis, and vivid commentary from two of the most respected political professionals of our time — all for free.

Carville: With Cardinal Dolan At GOP Convention, Democrats Should Invite ‘Nuns On The Bus’

Reflecting on Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s decision to deliver a closing invocation in Tampa next week, James suggests that Democrats invite Sister Simone Campbell and her “Nuns On The Bus” anti-poverty protest tour to their convention. He plans to measure the “favorability scale between bishops and nuns in the next Democracy Corps poll. I think I know who’s going to win.”

Bad Numbers Budget: Why The Ryan Nomination Isn’t Helping Romney

Nearly a week has passed since Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan as his running mate, with no evidence so far that choosing the Wisconsin Congressman boosted the Republican campaign. If the Ryan choice falls flat, that won’t surprise us at all – because in selecting him, Romney adopts the principles and priorities of Ryan’s radical budget plan as his own.

Romney can’t say we didn’t warn him. Last month, we released a memo underscoring the Ryan budget’s potential impact on Mitt Romney. When voters learned that Romney had given Ryan’s budget his full-throated support, they pulled back sharply—to the extent that President Obama’s lead against Romney more than doubled when the election was framed as a choice on the Ryan budget.

Our key findings show why picking Ryan was a dangerous gamble for the Romney campaign:

President Obama’s lead against Romney more than doubles when the election is framed as a choice between the two candidates’ positions on the Ryan budget– particularly its impact on the most vulnerable. The President makes significant gains among key groups, including independents and voters in the Rising American Electorate (the unmarried women, youth, and minority voters who drove Obama to victory in 2008).

Mitt Romney’s embrace of the Ryan budget erodes his support and opens him up to attack on major issues. When the election is framed as a choice between Romney’s support for Paul Ryan and Obama’s opposition based on principle, Obama’s ballot margin increases by nine points nationally, with his total vote climbing above 50 percent.

The more people learn about the Ryan budget, the less they like it and its authors. When we described its individual components, the plan not only loses support, but drags its supporters, including Romney, down with it. For the last two years, we have measured voters’ real and deep concerns about the deficit. By seizing upon their self-proclaimed mandate to advance an increasingly extreme agenda, Republicans in Washington, notably Ryan himself, have sharply repelled voters. (See our recent Battleground and National Research memos.)

Voters decisively reject Ryan’s plan to cut taxes for the very wealthiest. They’re worried by Ryan’s plan for Medicare and health care spending for seniors. They abhor Ryan’s plan to allow the refundable child tax credit to expire — which would push the families of 2 million children back into poverty – and they strongly disapprove of his proposed cuts to education spending. These issues may well motivate swing voters and Democratic base voters who have yet to express enthusiasm in this election.

Finally, voters reject Ryan on both practical and moral grounds. In focus groups and surveys, what evidently drives voters most sharply and permanently away from Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney is their concern over budget priorities they regard as simply immoral. Even we were surprised at how strongly voters feel about this distinction. They take a moral approach to evaluating the proposed cuts in the Ryan budget. And they reject the budget on deeply principled and unmovable grounds.

Image via

The Phony “Courage” Of Paul Ryan

In this video, James Carville pushes back against the notion that Paul Ryan’s budget plan is brave. “There is nothing more courageous than taking away from people trying to make it and giving to people who already have it made,” he says sarcastically. “Please have the courage not to be courageous.”

“The Truth Of The Matter Is, Mitt Can’t Release His Tax Returns”

In this video, James Carville discusses Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s assertion that a Bain investor told him Mitt Romney had paid no income taxes for ten years. “Don’t you just love this Republican response?” he says, adding that he suspects Senator Reid is having the time of his life — because James certainly is.


Greenberg To Democrats: Wake Up! We Can Win The Health Care Debate

In a special national survey conducted with Women’s Voices, Women Vote Action Fund, Democracy Corps found new evidence that the health care debate has shifted to the left. “Democrats, wake up!” says Stan Greenberg.  As the election moves toward November, “We want to have this battle.”

Stan Greenberg on Health Care Issue from Carville Greenberg Memo on Vimeo.

New Battleground Poll Finds GOP In Danger Of Losing The House [VIDEO]

In this video Stan Greenberg discusses surveying voters in 54 “battleground” Congressional districts. Stan says up to 30 “very weak” GOP incumbents risk losing their seats come November — enough for a Democratic takeover. More than 60 percent of those voters believe Republicans should cooperate with Obama, who won most of those districts in 2008, rather than fighting the president at every step.



Find the Democracy Corps polling data and graphs here.

Final 100 Days: Romney And GOP Brand Dragged Down By Tea Party

Despite “systematically biased” polls produced by Gallup and Rasmussen and the conventional idiocy of mainstream political discourse, Stan Greenberg explains why Republicans face serious trouble as the campaign enters the final 100 days. And why, despite unfavorable economic conditions, he believes President Obama’s lead is larger than other polls suggest.

See the complete Democracy Corps report and polling data here