Examiner News Service

As Election 2006 comes to an end, results of a voter survey revealed surprising patterns between voting behavior and attitudes towards immigration and civil liberties issues.

For the first time ever in Washington state, a telephone survey was conducted of absentee or vote-by-mail voters in King County. The survey, part of a larger national initiative called “The New American Exit Poll Project,” was conducted through a partnership between Hate Free Zone Washington, an immigrant and civil rights organization based in Seattle, and researchers at the University of Washington. The project also conducted surveys in New York and Los Angeles.

One of the striking findings of the survey was that even though anti-immigrant forces attempted to use immigration as a “wedge” issue, voters did not identify immigration as an issue that drove them to the polls, according to a press release. The top three issues of concern were: the war in Iraq (37 percent), taxes (20 percent), and jobs and the economy (19 percent). Voters were more motivated to vote by the issue of civil liberties and civil rights than by gas prices or immigration.

Immigrants continued to be the driving force behind the expansion of new voters. They were much more likely to have cast a ballot for the first time in these elections than their native-born counterparts. Fifteen percent of first- and second-generation immigrant voters reported they were first-time voters, compared with five percent of the native-born. Immigrant voters made up almost one-fifth of the King County electorate.

Pramila Jayapal of Hate Free Zone says that if get-out-the-vote initiatives continue at the rate of success as this year, over 30,000 new immigrants will be eligible to vote in 2008.

“This was the year that immigrant groups across the nation conducted unprecedented voter education and mobilization campaigns. A new kind of immigrant voting block is forming. We have the beginnings of an immigrant electoral machine that will continue to build and flex its muscle in 2008 and beyond,” said Jayapal.

With regards to immigration, a majority of King County voters believe that the immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. More than 87 percent favored a solution other than criminalizing and deporting undocumented immigrants. More than half of King County voters favored providing undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship.

More than two-thirds of all King County voters — immigrants and non-immigrants alike — indicated that discrimination against immigrants is a problem. They also strongly opposed giving the government more authority to engage in surveillance or detention of certain racial and ethnic groups, even if they might pose a threat.

Jayapal said, “[This survey] clearly shows that voters want to have comprehensive immigration reform that respects the rights and dignity of people. Large majorities strongly oppose detaining or profiling based on race or ethnicity, or criminalizing undocumented immigrants.”

Between the three cities surveyed, a majority of voters followed this year’s immigration rallies closely and felt that Democrats did a better job on the immigration issue. Thirty percent of voters indicated that the Democratic party has done a better job addressing immigration policy, while only 12 percent indicated the Republican party has done a better job. Significantly, 38 percent of voters indicated that neither party was doing a better job, and nearly 20 percent indicated that they don’t know who is doing a better job.

Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of The New York Immigration Coalition, which coordinated the three-city effort in partnership with community-based organizations in Los Angeles and Seattle, said, “The aftermath of the elections has created the perfect political moment for immigration reform: the anti-immigrant extremists have been discredited, there is broad national support for immigration reform, and the 12 million undocumented immigrants aren’t going anywhere.”

For more information on the preliminary findings from Seattle, New York and Los Angeles, visit www.hatefreezone.org.
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