"This issue is still completely up for grabs," Raabe said. "It is getting drowned out in a presidential election year."
The law would give some illegal immigrants access to the lower, in-state tuition rates at Maryland colleges and universities. To qualify for the lower rates, the students would have to show that their parents have filed tax returns for three years and they would have to have graduated from Maryland high schools.
The Dream Act would likely get a boost from the presidential race, since African-Americans, who support it 56 percent to 32 percent, are expected to come out in large numbers, Raabe said.
"As African-Americans, we had to go through something for education, for fair education," said Paul Stanley, a 78-year-old Bethesda man who said sees parallels with the civil rights and women's rights movements. "We had to go through the same thing. It is like a stem off the same branch."
On both sides of the tuition issue, voters have strong feelings, the poll found. "Children who are brought here by immigrant parents don't have a choice," said Connie Saltarelli, a 60-year-old Charles County Republican who will support the Dream Act. "They have every right to have residential college rates at state universities."
Statewide, white voters oppose the law, 47 percent to 39 percent. Among them is Joseph Raymond Sachs, a 58-year-old unemployed carpenter from Glen Burnie.
"That's why I'm out of a job," he said. "All these immigrants are taking all the work."
How the poll was done
OpinionWorks, an Annapolis research firm, did telephone interviews with 804 likely Maryland voters over three days, Sept. 25 to Sept. 27. According to customary statistical standards, this sample produces a margin of error of no more than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. This means that 95 percent of the time, the "true" figure would fall within this range if every likely voter in Maryland had been interviewed.