When I got a newsletter from the International Dairy Foods Association headlined “Poll finds voters support immigration reform,” I thought, Here we go. Another push poll.
But then I checked out the poll’s details, and it turns out that there are some surprises.
The poll, conducted by Morning Consult, quizzed almost 2,000 registered voters about their attitudes toward immigration in general, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA) in particular. Put briefly, the FWMA is legislation, proposed in 2019 and still under consideration by Congress, that would make it easier for migrant farmworkers to stay in this country, either on an ongoing basis or permanently.
What I found most interesting about the poll results was the differences in opinion between self-identified Democrats and Republicans.
The first such difference was to this question: “Do you support or oppose Congress passing legislation on comprehensive immigration reform?” “Support” was chosen by 55% of Democrats and 58% of Republicans. Given the rift between the two parties on immigration, I can only assume that when the Democrats heard “immigration reform,” they assumed it meant “let more people in,” while the Republicans heard “finish the wall.”
Less surprising was political attitudes toward FWMA in particular. Among those who know what it is, it is supported by 75% of Democratic voters and only 59% of Republicans. But given that attitude, the response to another question becomes surprising, if not astounding.
Respondents were asked: “How connected, if at all, are immigration issues with rising food prices?” “Very connected” and “somewhat connected” were chosen by 54% of Republican voters and only 34% of Democrats.
The attitude of the Dairy Foods Association isn’t hard to fathom. Dairy farms and processing plants, like most agricultural enterprises these days, are short of labor, and immigrants have always been a major source of that labor. But I was gobsmacked at how many more Republicans than Democrats seem able to make the connection between scarce labor and high prices. It’s even more surprising in light of the traditional contemporary Republican attitude toward immigration, which is to restrict it as much as possible.
Only three possible interpretations occur to me. Republicans who answered the survey:
—Know that restrictive immigration policies will lead to labor shortages and higher prices, but consider that worth it;
—Think that if immigration is restricted, it’s no problem because native-born Americans will suddenly clamor for jobs cleaning manure out of dairy barns; or
—Disagree with their party’s general attitude toward immigration.
For the sake of a sane future immigration policy and an adequate workforce in the food sector, I sincerely hope that it’s the last one. And that their party will start to listen to them.