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Poll shows growing support for Obama’s immigration reforms

Americans have given President Obama a major ratings boost on immigration as he and Congress debate the biggest immigration reforms in decades, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

By 49 to 44 percent, slightly more Americans now approve than disapprove of Obama on immigration. In July, Obama was deep underwater, with just 38 percent offering positive ratings and 52 percent negative.

Even after the shift, though, Obama’s immigration marks continue to trail his overall approval rating, which stood at 55 percent in a January Post-ABC poll.

In addition, two key elements of reform discussions receive even broader support than Obama: 83 percent support stricter border security, and 55 percent back a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

So is the poll just another indicator of Obama’s post-election bounce, or is something deeper afoot in attitudes about immigration? The poll finds evidence for both claims.

Obama’s overall job approval rating received a five-percentage-point bump since October, and there is little reason to believe immigration played much of a role in driving that up, given the fact that the “fiscal cliff” negotiations and gun control dominated the political zeitgeist from November to early January.

But perhaps most noteworthy is that fact that Obama’s solid-but-not-spectacular ratings mark a major change in how Americans have rated recent presidents – Republican or Democrat – on immigration. President George W. Bush’s approval ratings on immigration ranged from just 29 percent to 34 percent in Post-ABC polls from 2004 to 2007, and President Bill Clinton earned just a 28 percent approval on immigration in a 1994 USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, after which pollsters stopped asking that question.

The paltry assessments appear to be rooted in a long-running dissatisfaction with the federal government’s handling of illegal immigration. Three-quarters of Americans said the U.S. is “not doing enough” to stop illegal immigration in a 2010 Post-ABC poll, a result consistent with polling since 2005. It’s no surprise, then, that 83 percent in the new poll support stricter border control to reduce illegal immigration, with 64 percent supporting this “strongly.”

Obama clearly tried to tap into this vein of opinion in a speech last week, touting a drop in illegal border crossings and record high deportations of criminals during his presidency.

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