Surprise! Mass. Dems don’t want to abolish ICE
Are some of the state's pols in Washington out of step?
FOLLOW TWITTER TRENDS and cable news discussion, and you’d think the Democratic base was all-in on the idea of abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Indeed, even national polling seemed to show Democrats headed in that direction, with a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll finding Democrats support abolishing ICE (43 percent) over keeping it (34 percent). Trump himself tweeted “Democrats want Open Borders and they want to abolish ICE,” one of four tweets he has sent on the issue since late June.
But a pair of Massachusetts polls tell a very different story about the 15-year-old agency responsible for enforcing immigration laws, among other things.
But these polls show the Democratic base, as in voters who show up for congressional primaries, in a different place. The 7th District, where incumbent Congressman Michael Capuano faces a challenge from Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, is the deepest blue district in a dark blue state. Indeed, it is one of the most Democratic districts in the nation in terms of voting patterns for president and other offices. Even here, our poll for WBUR found 64 percent of Democratic primary voters want to reform ICE, just 21 percent would prefer to see it abolished, and 8 percent would keep it as is.
A new poll of likely voters in the 3rd Congressional District Democratic primary shows a similar pattern. The UMass Lowell / Boston Globe poll found 71 percent would prefer reform, 9 percent say ICE should be abolished, and 13 percent think it’s fine the way it is. Among Latino voters in the poll, 19 percent say it should be abolished, while 71 percent opt for reform. And it’s not a pressing issue to voters overall – only 4 percent of respondents say immigration is the most important issue facing their district.
These results may seem surprising given the national furor over ICE after the agency was involved in separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Thousands of people turned out in June for a rally in Boston against migrant family separation. A number of Massachusetts officials and candidates have called for an overhaul of ICE. US Rep. Jim McGovern has called for it to be abolished, while the rest of the state’s congressional delegation has issued statements that live somewhere between reform and abolishment, with some blurring of the lines. Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for “replacing ICE with something that reflects our values,” while Senator Ed Markey said it should be “dismantled and reconstructed.”
Practically, there is significant overlap in reforming the agency, dismantling and reconstructing it, or abolishing it. Many of the functions of ICE would continue to exist whether they live under the same agency or placed somewhere else in the government. Even one of the most ardent supporters of abolishing ICE said that “doesn’t mean get rid of our immigration policy, but what it does mean is to get rid of the draconian enforcement that has happened since 2003 that routinely violates our civil rights.”This is also an illustration of two key realities of polling. The first is that polling doesn’t always show what you expect. Issues making big waves on cable news don’t always do much for voters. The Twitter perpetual outrage machine was also pointing in the wrong direction as to how most Democrats feel.
Second, different question formats can produce different results. There is nothing wrong with the way the POLITICO poll asked the question. It shows that, just between those two options, Democrats would prefer abolishing ICE. But with a third option, a very different picture emerges. Looking at all of the polling on a given issue can offer more illumination than only looking at the one generating the biggest headlines.