A new poll by the non-partisan think tank the Center for Immigration Studies found that the majority of voters know very little about the three remaining presidential candidates’ positions on immigration. All three candidates favor eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements, but only 34% of McCain voters, 42% of Clinton voters, and 52% of Obama voters could correctly identify their candidate’s position.

Among McCain voters, 35% thought he favored returning illegal immigrants home. Ten percent thought he favored mass deportations, and 21% didn’t know his position. The poll also found that voters often held a different position then the candidate they voted for. Only 31% of McCain voters shared his position on immigration. 45% of Clinton voters shared her position, and Obama did the best with 61% sharing his position. In the cases of McCain and Clinton each of those campaigns has been intentionally vague about their candidates’ positions on immigration.

McCain would love nothing more than for Republicans to forget his support for the Bush immigration reform, and can anyone forget Clinton flailing about trying to dodge the question of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants during a Democratic debate? However, each of these candidates, if elected, faces an uphill battle with many American citizens on the issue of citizenship for illegal immigrants. Only 25% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats say that they would support a plan for the eventual legalization of illegal immigrants. If immigration becomes an issue during the fall campaign, McCain is the candidate with the most to lose. A general election matchup between Clinton and McCain would probably result in the issue being buried and not discussed.

McCain’s support of the Bush plan almost killed his presidential campaign once, and if it becomes an issue again, McCain could lose most of his base. Democrats would rather not talk about the issue at all, but immigration is not nearly the divisive issue for the Democrats that it is for the Republicans. Hispanic voters are already angry and leaving the GOP because of their hard line stance on this issue. It would not surprise me to see the Democratic nominee embrace the Bush plan in an attempt to court Hispanic votes.

By taking such a radical stand on the issue, the Republican Party has destroyed two decades worth of Hispanic support that will play a critical role in states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado this November. John McCain is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to immigration. He will either alienate his white border state support, or send Hispanic voters flocking to the Democrats if he adopts his party’s stance on the issue. The Democrats would probably be wise to sit back and let the GOP tear itself apart over this issue.

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