ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico voters strongly disapprove of the state's policy of giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, and a majority of them give a thumbs-up to Arizona's new immigration law, according to a poll released Sunday by the Albuquerque Journal.
According to the poll, 53 percent favor Arizona's law, 35 percent disapprove, 7 percent have mixed feelings and 5 percent don't know or wouldn't say.
Hispanic voters agreed with the majority on the state's driver's license policy and supported the city of Albuquerque's new policy of checking immigrant status of anyone who is arrested. However, only 39 percent of the Hispanics polled said they supported the Arizona law and 48 percent opposed it.
Gabriel Sanchez, an assistant professor of political science at the University of New Mexico, said New Mexicans do not favor the Arizona law as much as the rest of the country does, but the state's voters are becoming more disenchanted with illegal immigrants.
He said that historically, the nation becomes more concerned - and angry - with immigrant populations during times of economic turmoil.
"The elephant in the room is that, I guarantee you, if you ran this survey two years ago, before the economy went downhill, you would get very different results," Sanchez said.
Research and Polling Inc. of Albuquerque conducted the poll by questioning 403 registered voters by telephone on Aug. 23 through 27. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Asked about the law that allows illegal immigrants to be issued driver's licenses in New Mexico, 72 percent of those polled said they did not favor the law. Twenty percent favored the law, 6 percent had mixed feelings and 2 percent didn't know or wouldn't say.
Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling, said the driver's-license law is especially hard for some people to swallow.
"I think it hits people in the gut," he said. "The issuance of a driver's license by state government may imply a certain level of recognition or legal status that some feel should not be afforded to individuals who are not here legally."
The poll also found that 79 percent of Hispanic voters supported the city of Albuquerque's immigration-check policy, while 67 percent opposed the driver's license law.
Sanchez said people don't realize that just as many Hispanics are conservative as liberal across the country, so "it's not all that surprising" to see a large number of Hispanics supporting Albuquerque's policy and opposing the state driver's license law.
He said he expected less support for the Arizona law because it has been framed by critics as "anti-Latino."
Non-Hispanic white voters were more likely than Hispanic voters to support the Arizona law and the Albuquerque policy. Those voters also were more likely than Hispanics to oppose New Mexico's driver's license law for illegal immigrants - 76 percent to 67 percent.
On StarNet: Read more about border- and immigration-related issues in Brady McCombs' blog at go.azstarnet.com/borderboletin
"The elephant in the room is that, I guarantee you, if you ran this survey two years ago, before the economy went downhill, you would get very different results."
Assistant professor, University of New Mexico