(WASHINGTON) — When it comes to immigration reform, most Americans don’t know much about it, and few think that the Boston bombing should be a factor in the debate.
The issue may be front-and-center in the nation’s capital, but around the rest of the country, when it comes to the immigration reform bill before Congress, it turns out many Americans don’t know much about it, at least according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
“It’s very early, that’s something to remember,” Carroll Doherty, an associate director at Pew, said. “This debate is just really getting underway.”
Four in 10 of those surveyed say they “don’t know” when it comes to their opinion of the immigration bill before the Senate, while 33 percent say they favor the bill and 28 percent oppose it.
The lack of opinion and indifference remains fairly consistent throughout other issues the bill may affect, such as if it will help or hurt the U.S. economy, or make the U.S. more or less safe from terrorism. The majority in both cases believe the bill will “not make much of a difference.”
The Pew survey, a self-proclaimed “independent fact tank,” was conducted the last week of April, two weeks after the Boston marathon bombing. When it was discovered the suspected bombers were immigrants, it became a contentious issue for some Republicans who called for a possible delay on the bill.
But of those surveyed, many do not think the bombings should be a factor in the debate for immigration reform; 58 percent called the two “separate issues.”
What may come as the biggest surprise to those in Washington: barely 20 percent of those surveyed say they are “following the story very closely,” which may explain why less than half know that the bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators.
Just 37 percent of those polled know that the legislation was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators — 9 percent thought a group of Democrats introduced the legislation, while 7 percent believed it was a group of Republicans. The overwhelming majority, 47 percent, did not know who introduced the bill.
“The idea of the Gang of Eight or a bipartisan group…some would think that would get more attention because it goes against prevailing trends in Washington,” Doherty said, while cautioning that the Boston bombing was capturing most of the attention, as well as the gun control legislation.
The fact that the bill lays out a path to citizenship that allows undocumented immigrants to stay in the country was also a lesser known fact by those surveyed.
Only 46 percent knew that the bill would allow unauthorized immigrants to stay in the country while applying for citizenship.
Doherty said that although many of the policies of the bill are not well known yet, other recent Pew surveys that examined issues included in the Senate legislation provide better context for public perception.
“It almost makes sense to look at our other recent surveys on immigration,” he said. “Attitudes about the basic principles at this point are as important as the early attitudes about the legislation.”
A March survey found that 71 percent favored finding a way for people here illegally to stay in the country “if they meet certain requirements.”
That same March survey also saw a huge shift in overall perception of immigrants compared to views in the early 1990s.
According to that survey, “63% viewed immigrants as a burden, but the percentage expressing this view declined substantially by the end of the 1990s (to 38% in September 2000).” Whereas today, “49% agree with the statement ‘immigrants today strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents.'”
“The changing views on immigration are as important as the snapshot measurements of the legislation,” Doherty said.
Among the 24 percent who did have a baseline of understanding for the bill, the majority had an overwhelmingly favorable opinion of the legislation (50 percent vs 33 percent).
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Tom LoBianco, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Stephen Collinson and MJ Lee, CNN