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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Asa Hutchinson is shown in this file photo.

Arkansans have mixed feelings about people who are in the U.S. without authorization, according to the 21st annual Arkansas Poll, which was released Wednesday.

On the one hand, they overwhelmingly support a pathway to citizenship for migrants who are here without authorization. On the other hand, a plurality of Arkansans want to deport them all.

Natural State residents also want the country to hire more U.S. Border Patrol agents and build more walls between the U.S. and Mexico, the survey showed.

The poll's director, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, political science professor Janine Parry, said Arkansans seem conflicted about immigration issues.

That makes it hard to sum up public sentiment, she said.

"The sound bite, the bumper sticker, the tweet just won't work," she said. "If what we're trying to do is translate the public's preference into public policy, simple slogans aren't going to do the trick."

UA's Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society sponsored the poll, which was conducted between Oct. 12 and Oct. 24.

Issues & Answers Network Inc., a market research firm, interviewed 811 Arkansas adults for the survey. The margin of error was 3.5%.

Overall, 79% of those surveyed favored "allowing immigrants living in the U.S. illegally the chance to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements over a period of time." That option was opposed by 19%; 2% said they didn't know or declined to respond.

The Arkansas figures mirrored national numbers, Parry noted.

A Gallup Poll in January showed 81% of Americans favoring a pathway to citizenship; 18% were opposed.

Asked whether all immigrants living in the country illegally should be deported, 48% of Arkansans said yes; 44% said no and 8% didn't express an opinion. In the Gallup Poll, 37% of all Americans favored blanket deportation; 61% opposed it and 2% opted not to weigh in.

As of 2017, there were an estimated 10.5 million "unauthorized immigrants" in the U.S., according to a study by the Pew Research Center. That included an estimated 65,000 people living in Arkansas.

In the Arkansas survey, 73% favored and 20% opposed hiring "significantly more border patrol agents." Nationally, 75% supported beefing up the border patrols, while 24% were opposed.

While 60% of Americans in the Gallup Poll opposed significant border wall expansion, a majority of Arkansans supported it.

In the Natural State survey, 55% favored "significantly expanding the construction of walls along the U.S.-Mexico border." Forty-two percent were opposed and 4% didn't express an opinion.

CALL FOR CHANGE

In an interview, Arkansas United Executive Director Mireya Reith said it's time to end the impasse on immigration.

Most Arkansans, she said, support change.

"We hope that policymakers take away [from the poll] that Arkansas is giving them a strong mandate to get something done and they're open to a pragmatic solution that looks at something like a pathway to citizenship for our immigrants."

Arkansas United, which advocates for immigrants regardless of their legal status, has encouraged lawmakers to address the issue.

"There is strong agreement across the state, from all parties and all backgrounds, that we have a broken system," Reith said. "There's a whole lot of people tired of the rhetoric and wanting to see change done."

In an interview, Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, agreed that the system is broken.

Arkansans recognize that amnesty isn't the answer, he said.

"People, except for in a handful of deep blue states, feel that the priority should be on enforcement," he said.

Support in Arkansas for wall construction and increased border patrol funding reflects an awareness that unchecked immigration can't continue, Mehlman said.

"It seems pretty clear that voters want that border secured," he added.

Parry portrayed the data on immigration as interesting, but inconclusive.

While polls are helpful, "they're just snapshots," she said. "It can't capture the complexity of people's feelings about a really big, tangled public policy problem."

The Arkansas Poll has been measuring public sentiment for two decades, tracking views on abortion rights since 1999 and gun rights since 2000.

ABORTION, GUNS

On abortion, a plurality of Arkansans support additional legal restrictions. This year, 41% said they support laws making it more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion; 21% want to decrease restrictions and 31% think the law should remain unchanged. Eight percent were undecided or declined to answer.

Since 1999, support for increased abortion restrictions has ranged from a low of 38% in 2018 to a high of 47% in 2003. Support for decreased restrictions has been as low as 9% in 2005; 21% is an all-time high.

The Arkansas Poll found little change when it comes to gun policy. Overall, 44% of Arkansans said they favored "stricter gun control;" 10% preferred less strict gun control; 43% wanted to keep the laws the same; and 3% didn't offer an opinion.

Last year, the percentages were the same, except 4% didn't weigh in. (Because of rounding, the numbers don't always add up to 100%.)

Asked about potential federal action, 90% of Arkansans said they'd favor legislation raising funding for mental health screening and treatment; 76% said they'd support creation of a national "red flag" law to remove guns from people at risk of harming themselves or others; 67% said they'd back legislation requiring individuals to obtain a license before purchasing a gun; 54% favored banning the purchase of high-capacity ammunition magazines; and 52% favored allowing schoolteachers "to carry guns."

A slight majority of Arkansans (52%) favored legislation allowing people with enhanced-carry permits to take concealed handguns into most public buildings; 50% favored allowing the permit holders to take concealed guns to church; 40% thought the permit holders should be able to take guns onto college campuses; and only 25% thought the concealed guns should be allowed inside bars.

As it has in past years, the Arkansas Poll asked about political affiliations. Thirty-five percent identified themselves as Republicans, the highest figure in the poll's history. The number of Democrats dropped to a new low -- 23%. The number of people listing their party affiliation as "other" rose to 9%; 31% called themselves independents and 2% didn't pick any of those options.

Among those calling themselves independents, 40% said they are "closer to" being Republicans; 27% were closer to the Democratic Party and 31% said they were "just independent." (Two percent didn't know or wouldn't say.)

Arkansas' increasingly Republican population expressed satisfaction with the state's top Republican. Gov. Asa Hutchinson had the approval of 61% of those polled; while 19% disapproved. Another 21% were undecided or declined to weigh in.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Dardanelle, had the approval of 45% of those surveyed, while 30% disapproved and 25% were undecided or wouldn't say.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, a Republican from Rogers, had 39% approval and 24% disapproval. The remaining 36% didn't weigh in.

Arkansans were more closely divided when it comes to the White House; 50% said they approve of President Donald Trump, while 45% disapproved. (Five percent didn't know or wouldn't say.)

Trump's former press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, fared better, with 50% approving and 31% disapproving. Another 19% didn't weigh in.

Left-leaning Arkansans are scarce, if the poll is correct. Asked to classify themselves, 14% called themselves liberals; 34% identified themselves as moderates; and 46% called themselves conservatives. Since 2008, the percentage of Arkansans identifying themselves as conservatives has never been lower than 43% or higher than 47%. The number of self-described liberals ranged from a low of 13% to a high of 20%.

Metro on 11/07/2019

Print Headline: Annual Arkansas Poll shows immigration conflicts; most in survey favor path to citizenship, mass deportations

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