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News Release | Republicans Face Generational Divide on Immigration: Majority of Young Republicans Believe Immigrants Strengthen U.S., Support Path to Citizenship

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[03.29.2016]

New Landmark Survey of 42,000 Americans Charts Remarkably Stable Opinion on Immigration in All 50 States and 30 Major Metropolitan Areas 

WASHINGTON – Following months of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy proposals to toughen border security and increase deportations, from Donald Trump and other leading Republican Presidential candidates, a report released today finds that such rhetoric may not resonate with Republicans under the age of 30.

The report highlights findings from a landmark survey conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute as part of its 2015 American Values Atlas. The survey, which is based on more than 42,000 interviews conducted between April 2015 and early January 2016, explores Americans’ attitudes about immigrants and support for immigration reform policy that provides a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the country illegally.

The survey—which included interviews with 1,083 Republicans between the ages of 18 and 29—finds that a slim majority (51 percent) of young Republicans say that the increasing number of newcomers to the country strengthens American culture and way of life, compared to 36 percent who say they are a threat. In contrast, only 22 percent of Republican seniors (age 65 or older) believe that recent immigrants strengthen American society, compared to 61 percent who say they are a threat. Overall, only about one-third of Republicans (32 percent)—but majorities of independents (52 percent) and Democrats (63 percent)—say that newcomers from other countries strengthen American society.

A similar generational divide is evident among white evangelical Protestants, a key part of the Republican base. A majority (55 percent) of young white evangelicals believe that immigrants strengthen the country, compared to 33 percent who believe they are a threat. These views contrast starkly with those of white evangelical seniors, who are much more likely to say that recent immigrants threaten (57 percent) than strengthen (23 percent) the country. Among white evangelical Protestants overall, 32 percent say recent immigrants strengthen the country, compared to 53 percent who say they are a threat.

“While the campaigns of the leading Republican presidential candidates have been fueled by antipathy toward immigrants, these views are not reflective of the general public’s mindset and may not resonate among younger Republicans and white evangelical Protestants,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. “While these younger voters are less of a factor in the primary season, Republican candidates will need their support in the general election.”

The survey also shows solid support for immigration reform policy that includes a path to citizenship. More than six in ten (62 percent) Americans say immigrants who are currently living here illegally should be allowed a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, while 15 percent say these immigrants should be allowed to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, and about one in five (19 percent) say illegal immigrants should be identified and deported. Attitudes on this question have remained remarkably stable throughout 2015. With the single exception of South Dakota, majorities in all states and regions support a path to citizenship for immigrants now living in the country illegally.

A majority of Americans in both political parties support a path to citizenship, but there are notable differences in the the strength of support. More than seven in ten (72 percent) Democrats support providing illegal immigrants with a path to citizenship, compared to a slim majority (52 percent) of Republicans. Among young Republicans under the age of 30, support for a path to citizenship rises to 63 percent.

“While opinions about the cultural impact of recent immigrants are more mixed, there is remarkably broad agreement on the issue of policy,” said Dr. Dan Cox, PRRI’s research director. “Majorities of Americans across partisan and religious lines support a path to citizenship for immigrants who are now living in the country illegally.”

Notably, even among Americans who believe recent immigrants are a threat, nearly half (46 percent) favor a path to citizenship, and 13 percent say they should be allowed to become permanent legal residents. However, nearly four in ten (37 percent) Americans who see immigrants as a threat say immigrants living illegally in the U.S. should be identified and deported.

Among the findings:

  • Americans overall are more likely to say that newcomers from other countries strengthen American society (50 percent) than they are to believe that they represent a threat to American customs and values (34 percent), although attitudes vary by region.
  • Education impacts white evangelical Protestants’ attitudes on immigrants. Nearly six in ten (57 percent) white evangelical Protestants who have a high school degree or less believe that immigrants threaten traditional American culture and values, while college-educated white evangelical Protestants are more divided: 44 percent say immigrants are a threat, nearly as many say immigrants strengthen American society (41 percent).
  • Majorities of all major religious groups support a path to citizenship, although there are large differences in levels of support. Support for a path to citizenship is highest among religiously unaffiliated Americans and among non-Christian and non-white Christian groups, including among Unitarian Universalists (85 percent), Buddhists (71 percent), black Protestants (69 percent), Jewish Americans (69 percent), and the religiously unaffiliated (66 percent). A majority (54 percent) of white evangelical Protestants support a path to citizenship, but this group also registers the highest support for identifying and deporting immigrants living in the country illegally (30 percent).

Because of this survey’s large sample size, data exists for a number of smaller groups that are not typically available with traditional surveys. The topline questionnaire, full methodology, and additional findings and analysis can be found here: http://publicreligion.org/research/2016/03/survey-how-americans-view-immigrants-and-what-they-want-from-immigration-reform-findings-from-the-2015-american-values-atlas/

In addition to the report, results from the AVA are available via an interactive online map, allowing users to explore religious, political, and demographic attributes, along with attitudes on key issues, for all 50 states, four U.S. Census regions, and 30 major metropolitan areas. Explore the AVA here: http://ava.publicreligion.org/

Methodology

The 2015 American Values Atlas (AVA) is a project of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Results were based on 42,586 telephone interviews (including 21,259 cell phone interviews) conducted between April 29, 2015 and January 7, 2016 by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS. The sample was designed to be representative of the total U.S. adult population from all 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 0.6 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. The design effect for sample is 1.4. The AVA was made possible by generous grants from The Ford Foundation, The Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Arcus Foundation, The Gill Foundation, and The Nathan Cummings Foundation.