Oklahoma pollster finds nuances in state sentiment on immigration, support for legal status

OKLAHOMA CITY – A new statewide opinion survey from one of Oklahoma’s best known pollsters says Oklahomans “are ready for the federal government to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.”
The poll from CMA Strategies of Oklahoma City, run by campaign and market survey veteran Pat McFerron, seems to document some shifting in the state electorate over the past several months.
In a press release, McFerron said,  “Not only do 73 percent support a reform package, but 52 percent say they strongly support it. To be clear, this question gauged support for a legal status, not citizenship. This may be one reason why support drops among self‐described liberals.”
In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, McFerron said he was surprised by some areas of support for legal status of immigrants, including those who are undocumented. 
“Geographically, we see strongest support in the rural areas of the state  – 77 percent support support on the base question vs. 70 percent in the urban areas. As we have been traveling the state, we have collected numerous stories from rural parts of the state where business owners have become dependent on immigrant labor and we are seeing integrated entrepreneurism in many communities.”
Asking about the public policy implications (if any) in his data, McFerron told CapitolBeatOK, “I think the big takeaway is that ‘legal status’ is accepted by conservatives. In the past, we have tested ‘citizenship’ and had more difficultly. To me, the real concern will be if Democrats and more left leaning groups push for citizenship it would make reform very difficult.”
A release from McFerron’s staff, early this week, reported, “The survey also asked Oklahomans about other aspects of immigration. When asked about deporting all of those in the nation illegally, only 39 percent want to pursue that option while 58 percent oppose doing so. When presented with the argument that deportation is not realistic, and asked if instead they would favor a workable solution that recognizes the economic need for immigration, the survey found 71 percent in agreement with that sentiment while only 23 percent disagreed.”
In his analysis, included in the release, McFerron said,  “The strongest message for immigration reform we found revolves around America being a nation of immigrants. We have to protect our borders while also allowing immigrants who want to be productive find legal status.” In all, 88 percent of Oklahomans agreed with that them, with 68 percent agreeing strongly. “The simple fact is, Oklahomans welcome those willing to work at improving their station in life.” 
More subtle distinctions were found in the survey, McFerron said. “We do see 42 percent of Oklahomans agreeing with a statement that our American way of life is being eroded by immigration while 53 percent disagree with that statement. The 42 percent may seem like a large number given the overwhelming support for an immigration reform package, but the anecdotal data from speaking with the interviewers reveals that at least some Oklahomans believe that an immigration reform package can help stop that erosion. A reform package will take away the incentive of a shadow economy and alternate communities and instead encourage assimilation and adoption of American culture and values.”
Among the most intriguing findings is that conservatives seeking public office may find more sympathy for legal status for the undocumented than anticipated.
CMA’s staff summary analysis, sent to CapitolBeatOK, concluded that “candidates who favor immigration reform will be rewarded at the ballot box. Fully 48 percent say they will either definitely (13 percent) or probably (36 percent) vote for a candidate supporting reform that grants legal status and secures the border while only 23 percent say they would definitely (8 percent), or probably (15 percent) vote against that candidate. The numbers are more advantageous among those with a history of having voted in Republican primaries (56 percent would support a reform candidate; 20 percent would vote against a reform candidate).”
CMA Strategies said the poll of 500 registers voters in the state was conducted April 3-6, with a margin  of error of +/‐4.3 percent.