Is there a “silent majority” opposed to the sanctuary state laws that could show itself in the coming elections? Does the rhetoric of elected officials who defend sanctuary laws reflect the attitude of voters especially when the sanctuary debate gets tangled with the crime issue?

President Richard Nixon popularized the term “silent majority” in a political sense nearly 50 years ago when he asked “the great silent majority of my fellow Americans” for support in his conducting of the Vietnam War. The term now stands for large groups of voters who are publicly silent on issues but make their wishes known at the ballot box.

On the surface, polling indicates that the public supports California’s legislated position on immigration. In the March Public Policy Institute of California statewide survey, 55% of likely voters favored California making its own policies to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants. In that same poll, a question about the recent federal crackdown on undocumented workers found 44% of likely voters thought it was a good thing while 49% thought it was a bad thing.

If the question was focused on criminal undocumented workers the results might have been different.

Indeed, the counties and cities that are taking steps to oppose the state’s sanctuary laws emphasize the concern over public safety. With law enforcement added to the mix the dynamics of the situation changes.

Pollsters working for Republican candidates in Orange County and the Central Valley claim that the anti-sanctuary law message is solid. Republican consultant Dave Gilliard told Politico that his polling reveals that the sanctuary state “is strongly opposed by a cross-section of voters.”

A week ago, I explored whether the movement against the sanctuary laws might influence the Orange County congressional races and therefore the party control of congress after the November election.

But the question here—is there broader sentiment against the sanctuary laws that is not showing up in the polling? There is an old concern for pollsters that respondents sometimes don’t want to reveal their true feelings to a pollster especially if they think their answer might be perceived negatively. Inside the privacy of a voting booth, their vote may reflect a different attitude than the one they shared with the pollster.

Differing campaign polls and public polls indicate there is something going on. However, I suspect it is tied in the broader question of criminal aliens, which was not tested in the public polls.

It is interesting to note, that when PPIC asked about the sanctuary state law before it was signed by the governor support was at 43% while opposition stood at 48%.

If there is a silent majority on the sanctuary issue those voters could have the chance to voice their opinion statewide if a proposed ballot measure repealing sanctuary laws makes it to the ballot. But that won’t occur until 2020.

In many voters’ minds, the instinct to support families and hard working immigrants butts up against the notion that we live in a nation of laws. Which idea prevails when voters go to the polls?