Immigrant Tuition Surprise Springs From Poll Results

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: April 9, 2014 3:55 AM

By 7 clear percentage points in the new Sunshine State News-commissioned Voter Survey Service Poll -- 52-to-45 percent -- Florida voters say let's allow children of undocumented immigrants to pay the same college and university tuition as in-state students.

But the real surprise in the poll-question response is where the strong resistance to the lower, in-state tuition rate is coming from.

It's not coming from Northwest Florida and the Panhandle after all. The big opposition is in Southwest Florida.

According to survey results, 61 percent of voters in and around the Naples-Fort Myers area want children of undocumented immigrants who attended high school in Florida to pay higher, out-of-state tuition to attend state colleges and universities. That's the heaviest opposition of any region in the Sunshine State.

That upends assumptions of some political analysts and even legislators who have maintained that Northwest Florida and the Panhandle pose the greatest opposition to any immigrant tuition bill succeeding this year in the Legislature. VSS poll results claim only 50 percent of Northwest Florida voters oppose in-state tuition rates for the children of undocumented workers -- 11 points less than in Southwest Florida.

James Lee, president of Voter Survey Service, said Southwest Florida's result shows the communities of the region are doggedly committed to upholding immigration laws.

"The ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the Bay area is virtually the same as in Southwest Florida," he said, "yet the difference is astounding -- in the Bay area it's 42 percent for higher tuition rates and 55 percent for in-state rates." 

Comparing all other Florida regions: in the Northeast, 48 percent favored in-state rates for immigrants, 50 percent favored out-of-state -- within the margin of error and close enough to call a draw; in Central Florida, 51 percent for in-state rates, 45 percent out-of-state; and in the more cosmopolitan, immigrant-rich Southeast, 60 percent of voters said they want in-state tuition rates, 36 percent said out-of-state rates.

Undocumented immigrant poll

The SSN-VSS poll also shows that of Florida Republicans overall, 40 percent favor lower tuition for undocumented students, but 58 percent want to see those students paying the higher rate. Of Democrats, percentages are not only flipped, they're more dramatic: 32 percent of voters think undocumented students should be paying higher rates, but a whopping 66 percent say it's OK for these students to pay the lower, in-state rates.

To see all the comparisons and percentage breakdowns in the poll, read the crosstabs attached below.

In March, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, told SSN he cannot support giving undocumented immigrants in-state tuition rates because his Northwest Florida constituents are staunchly against the measure. It's a fairness issue, he said.  Northwest Florida has many children of military families who cannot access in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities if they are residents of other states, even if their parents are stationed in Florida, he said. "I don't know how I explain to them that we're going to subsidize families who didn't play by the rules."

Gaetz said the Senate, opposed in previous years, is divided on the issue now, but he will not stand in the bill's way if it gains popularity in his chamber. He said the bill is one of House Speaker Will Weatherford's priorities.

In fact, a bill that would lower tuition for undocumented college students already has gained approval from the full House.

Said Gaetz, "It's an issue where people have to think about where they come from, what their values are, what they think is good public policy."

The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee will consider Jack Latvala's, R-Clearwater, high-profile immigrant tuition bill, SB 1400, at 9 a.m. today.

Associated Industries of Florida President and CEO Tom Feeney, a supporter of the bill from early on, said Tuesday, “AIF believes that allowing certain undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition is a positive step forward for businesses in, and looking to relocate to, Florida. Education reform, such as this, will give business owners the opportunity to retain and grow a strong workforce.”

Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, has said he supports Latvala's bill because it removes a provision that currently allows state universities to raise tuition above the amount set annually by the state Legislature.

The poll of 800 Florida voters was taken March 31-April 3 and had a margin of error of  +/- 3.46 percent. 

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. 


Comments (5)

6:11PM APR 9TH 2014
The dirty little secret is they are not giving a discount to in-state residents, they are overcharging everyone else.
5:31PM APR 9TH 2014
Yes, yes . . . . you and Gaetz must be right . . . let's have governing by polling . . . . no governing by what's right, what's ethical, what's humane . . . . you have to look no further than the three right-wing partisans below to realize the GOP minions don't have a clue . . . . which is why the "modern" GOP is doomed to keep repeating their mistakes of the 2012 election as they become more and more marginalized in an increasingly diverse, multi-cultural America . . . .

Pathetic . . . . .
10:59AM APR 9TH 2014
You can get arrested for hunting or fishing w/t a license, but not for being in the country illegally – Liberal justice!
6:58AM APR 9TH 2014
Why not allow In-State Tuition to everyone? Why should you over-charge a person, especially a US Citizen from Georgia more than you charge illegal immigrants?

If this is passed, Rick Scott should "VETO" it while holding a press conference and defend his VETO. This will surly solidify his base. Here is how I suggest he handle the veto, "I am vetoing this bill because, I want to give in-state tuition everyone including those from out-of-state."
7:24AM APR 9TH 2014
I agree with Republican Conscience - if you are allowing illegal's the same rate - then out of state students should also have the same rate.

Otherwise why should someone whose parents thought it was ok to break into a country illegally have an advantage over parents who did the right thing by going through the legal immigration process. What type of example is being set for these kids. That is it OK to break another country's laws? That laws don't matter? That people who want to uphold the laws are the BAD people?

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