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The night before President Barack Obama was scheduled to announce that he was removing the threat of deportation from up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, launched a preemptive strike during an appearance on Fox News.
Cruz told Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly that "it's incumbent on Republicans in Congress to use every single constitutional tool we have to defend the rule of law to rein in" Obama so that the president "does not become an unaccountable monarch imposing his own policies in defiance of the American people."
Cruz went on to say that the election results demonstrated that on two issues -- health care and immigration -- the American public delivered a resounding blow in favor of the Republican position. He said:
"You know, in elections that he liked, the president was fond of saying elections have consequences. Well, this last election there was no ambiguity. There were two issues that dominated this last election. Number one, Obamacare. And number two, amnesty. This was a referendum on amnesty. And the American people overwhelmingly said we don't want Obamacare. It's a disaster. It's hurting the American people. And we don't want amnesty. And I'm sorry to say the president is behaving in an unprecedented way. There is not in recent times any parallel for a president repudiated by the voters standing up and essentially telling the voters go jump in a lake, he's going to force his powers."
We wondered: Is there data to back up Cruz’s contention that in the 2014 elections, "the American people overwhelmingly said we don't want Obamacare … and we don't want amnesty"?
No one would question that the Republicans delivered a massive electoral victory in the 2014 midterm elections, and the party’s dominant position against both Obamacare and legalized status for illegal immigrants was hardly a state secret.
"The poll that counts is at the ballot box," said Phil Novack, deputy press secretary for Cruz. "In 2015 Republicans will control more legislative seats nationwide than anytime since the 1920s. Across the country, Republican candidates were united with a message to stop Obamacare, to stop its continuing damage to our economy, and to stop Obama’s amnesty, and the American people delivered a clear mandate on these priorities."
This was especially true in the competitive Senate races. We rated Mostly True the claim that every new Republican member of the U.S. Senate said they "will vote to repeal and replace Obamacare." So voters undeniably rewarded the party which plainly advocated the views Cruz highlights.
Still, the evidence that voters cast ballots as they did because of those policy positions is a lot less clear.
Novack said that "polls published before and after the election showed a majority of Americans in opposition to both Obamacare and Obama’s executive action on amnesty." However, the best way to measure how voters on election day actually felt -- which is what Cruz's claim refers to -- is to use responses to the national exit poll.
Every two years, a consortium of media outlets collectively samples opinion across the country on Election Day, either as voters leave the polls or through a supplemental phone survey of those who voted early or by absentee ballot. The 2014 exit poll results are summarized here.
Fortuitously for this fact-check, the exit poll asked about both Obamacare and illegal immigration.
Did the American people say "overwhelmingly" that "we don't want Obamacare"?
Exit poll respondents were asked to complete the sentence, "Do you think the 2010 federal health care law…," with one of three options. The most common answer -- 49 percent -- was that the law "went too far." But the other two options -- that the law "was about right," or that it "did not go far enough" -- collectively totaled 46 percent.
That’s a pretty tight split -- so tight, in fact, that it’s within the margin of error. This question had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, meaning that, due to imperfect sampling techniques, there actually may have been slightly more Americans who think the law is "about right" or "did not go far enough."
Either way, Cruz is wrong to say that the "American people overwhelmingly" opposed Obamacare on Election Day. At most, a small plurality opposed the law -- and maybe not even that.
Did Americans on Election Day say "we don't want amnesty"?
The term "amnesty" is one open to some debate. Many Republicans use it to describe any process that ultimately leads to legal status for the undocumented, while Democrats counter that Obama’s preferred course -- allowing illegal immigrants to apply for legal status only after certain hurdles such as fines and waiting periods are imposed -- is much more rigorous than no-fault "amnesty."
We won’t referee this debate here, but the exit poll asked a question that sheds some light on the electorate’s view.
The exit poll asked respondents to complete this sentence: "Should most illegal immigrants working in the United States be. …" with one of two options. "Offered a chance to apply for legal status" was chosen by 57 percent of respondents, while "deported to the country they came from" was the choice of 39 percent. (This question also had a 3-percentage-point sampling error margin, but the gap was so big that the error margin doesn’t come into play.)
What this means is that voters in Election 2014 didn’t reject "amnesty." If you take the term to mean what Republicans say it means -- a path to legal status -- then voters actually supported that option by an 18-point margin.
What is the most important issue facing the country?
One more question sheds some light on Cruz’s claim. The exit poll asked respondents to choose the "most important issue facing the country today" from among four choices: foreign policy, health care, the economy and illegal immigration.
Health care was the choice of 25 percent, and illegal immigration was named by 14 percent. Both of these options trailed the top choice -- the economy, named by 45 percent of respondents -- by a substantial margin.
Even among the 25 percent who cited health care as their top issue, these voters were more likely to be Democrats -- 59 percent to 39 percent. This further weakens Cruz’s case that opposition to Obamacare drove the electorate. (Just 14 percent of Democrats in the exit poll said Obamacare went too far.)
In other words, not only was Cruz incorrect in describing the voters’ policy preferences in Election 2014, but he was also off-base in saying that Obamacare and illegal immigration "dominated this last election." If anything dominated the minds of voters, it was the economy.
Cruz said that in the 2014 elections, "the American people overwhelmingly said we don't want Obamacare … and we don't want amnesty."
Exit poll data shows that, at most, Americans were slightly -- not "overwhelmingly" -- against Obamacare, and even that edge is in doubt because the lead for the anti-Obamacare side is within the margin of error. Meanwhile, exit poll data also shows that voters, by a 3-to-2 margin, actually favored offering the possibility of legal status to illegal immigrants. We rate Cruz’s claim False.
Associated Press, "Exit poll and related survey methodology -- 2014 general election," accessed Nov. 20, 2014
USA Today, "Resistance to Obama order on immigration," Nov. 17, 2014
Reuters, "Public support for Obamacare slips, Harvard analysis finds," Oct. 29, 2014
PolitiFact, "Sean Hannity says every new GOP senator wants to repeal and replace Obamacare," Nov. 10, 2014
Email interview with Phil Novack, deputy press secretary for Ted Cruz, Nov. 20, 2014
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