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Support for Legal Status Holds; So Do Sizable Partisan Divisions

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Nearly six in 10 Americans back a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, with narrow preference for prompt action on the issue. Partisan divisions are sharp, a factor likely to be reflected in the full Senate debate ahead.

Overall, 58 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll support providing a way for undocumented immigrants to remain in the country legally “if they pay a fine and meet other requirements,” vs. 38 percent opposed. That’s similar to a 62-34 percent split last month.

A bare majority, 51 percent, also says Congress should pass a legal status law now, either alone or along with stricter border control. Forty-five percent instead say border control should come first -- as preferred by some Republicans in Congress -- or oppose action on either step.

Legal status and tighter border control both are included in a package approved Tuesday night by the Senate Judiciary Committee, with support from three of its eight Republican members and all 10 Democrats. Reflecting that outcome, this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that 70 percent of Democrats support a path to legal status, as do 57 percent of independents -- dropping to 42 percent of Republicans.

Further, 52 percent of Republicans say Congress should pass border control first, or not act on either element of immigration reform. Forty-seven percent of independents share that view; it declines to 35 percent among Democrats.

All else equal, potential effects of the issue in 2014 congressional races look like a wash. People who oppose a path to legal status are more likely than its supporters to call the issue a red line in their vote preference -- but there are fewer of them, equalizing the overall effect. (Of course, all else in fact is not equal, given factors including the demographic and political makeup of congressional districts; turnout, including in primaries; the quality of opposing candidates; and the potential pull of other issues.)

Among groups, apart from partisanship, support for a path to legal status peaks among college post-graduates (72 percent), liberals (70 percent), Westerners (69 percent), nonwhites (68 percent) and 18- to 39-year olds (65 percent).

On gun control, another contentious issue, this poll finds extensive unhappiness with the Senate’s recent rejection of expanded background checks for gun purchasers; 67 percent say it was the wrong thing to do, with 58 percent feeling that way “strongly.” That’s not unexpected, since 86 percent favored expanded background checks in an ABC/Post poll in March.

Notably, even among people in gun-owning households, 62 percent say it was wrong for the Senate to reject extending background checks to cover online and gun-show purchases.

Forty-one Republican senators and five Democrats voted against the measure. Criticism in this survey is focused on the GOP: Among Americans who favored the measure, 64 percent chiefly blame its rejection on opposition led by congressional Republicans, vs. 17 percent who mainly blame President Obama for failing to secure the needed votes.

But backlash against the National Rifle Association, a prime opponent of the law, is muted. Forty-four percent of Americans say the NRA has too much influence over gun laws; that’s up by 6 points from January, but to a level it’s seen before.

Compared with immigration reform, the background-check issue appears to pose clearer electoral risk. Among the many critics of the Senate action, 55 percent say they could not support a candidate who voted against expanded background checks. It’s a red line for fewer on the other side of the issue, 46 percent, and, as noted, there are many fewer of them.

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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