Major Special Topics Surveys Print

Survey | Citizenship, Values, and Cultural Concerns: What Americans Want from Immigration Reform

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[03.21.2013]

 

Read the full report here.
Read the news release here.
Read a Spanish translation of the news release here.
Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology, here.
Read topline results from selected states here.
Read additional findings from the survey here.

More than 6-in-10 (63%) Americans agree that the immigration system should deal with immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally by allowing them a way to become citizens, provided they meet certain requirements. Less than 1-in-5 (14%) say they should be permitted to become permanent legal residents, but not citizens, while approximately 1-in-5 (21%) agree that they should be identified and deported.

  • More than 7-in-10 (71%) Democrats, nearly two-thirds (64%) of independents, and a majority (53%) of Republicans favor an earned path to citizenship. Similar numbers of Democrats (13%), independents (14%), and Republicans (13%) favor a path to legal residency, but not citizenship. Meanwhile, 13% of Democrats, 21% of independents, and 32% of Republicans favor deportation.
  • Majorities of all religious groups, including Hispanic Catholics (74%), Hispanic Protestants (71%), black Protestants (70%), Jewish Americans (67%), Mormons (63%), white Catholics (62%), white mainline Protestants (61%), and white evangelical Protestants (56%) agree that the immigration system should allow immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements.

Americans rank immigration reform sixth out of seven issues, far behind economic issues, as the highest political priority for the president and Congress. Less than one-quarter (24%) of Americans say that reforming the nation’s immigration system should be the highest priority for the president and Congress, while 47% of Americans report that reforming the immigration system should be a high priority but not the highest, and nearly 3-in-10 (27%) think that immigration reform should be given a lower priority.

Nearly half (45%) of Americans say the Republican Party’s position on immigration has hurt the party in recent elections. Less than 1-in-10 (7%) Americans say that the Republican Party’s stance on immigration has helped them in recent elections, while more than 4-in-10 (42%) say it has not made a difference.

  • Approximately 4-in-10 Republicans (39%) and Americans who identify with the Tea Party (41%) think the Republican Party’s position on immigration has hurt the party in recent elections. Close to half (46%) of Republicans and a similar number of Tea Party members (44%) say it did not make a difference.
  • About 4-in-10 (39%) Hispanic Americans overall say the Republican Party’s position on immigration hurt the party in the 2012 election. Approximately 4-in-10 (41%) say it did not make a difference, and 14% say it helped the Republican Party.

Americans are more likely to say they trust the Democratic Party, rather than the Republican Party, to do a better job handling the issues of immigration (39% vs. 29%) and illegal immigration (43% vs. 30%). However, nearly 1-in-4 (23%) Americans say they do not trust either party to handle the issue of immigration.

Americans generally perceive that immigrants are having more of an impact on American society as a whole than on their own communities. Less than one-third (32%) of Americans say that immigrants today are changing their community a lot, compared to 46% of Americans who say immigrants today are changing American society a lot.

  • Views about immigrants’ impact on American society are strongly associated with political ideology. Conservatives (36%) and liberals (31%) are nearly equally as likely to say that immigrants are changing their own communities a lot. However, conservatives (53%) are significantly more likely than liberals (38%) to say that immigrants are changing American society a lot.

Overall, Americans are more likely have positive rather than negative views about the impact of immigrants.

  • A majority (54%) of Americans believe that the growing number of newcomers from other countries helps strengthen American society, while a significant minority (40%) say that newcomers threaten traditional American customs and values.
  • A strong majority (59%) of Americans believe that immigrants today see themselves as part of the American community, much like immigrants from previous eras, while 36% disagree.

Americans register some concerns about the economic impact of immigrants. While nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans agree that immigrants coming to this country today mostly take jobs that Americans don’t want, a majority (56%) of Americans simultaneously say that illegal immigrants hurt the economy by driving down wages for many Americans.

Although deportations of illegal immigrants have increased since the beginning of the Obama administration, less than 3-in-10 (28%) Americans correctly state that deportations have increased over the past five or six years. A plurality (42%) of Americans believe that the number of deportations has stayed the same, while nearly 1-in-5 (18%) say deportations have decreased.

There is broad agreement about a set of values that should guide immigration policy.

  • Five values are rated very or extremely important as guides to immigration reform by approximately 8-in-10 Americans: promoting national security (84%), keeping families together (84%), protecting the dignity of every person (82%), ensuring fairness to taxpayers (77%), and enforcing the rule of law (77%).
  • Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) also say following the Golden Rule—“providing immigrants the same opportunity that I would want if my family were immigrating to the U.S.”—is a very or extremely important value.

Far fewer Americans say continuing America’s heritage as a nation of immigrants (52%) or following the biblical example of welcoming the stranger (50%) are very or extremely important guides for immigration reform.

The face of American society has changed dramatically over the course of a single generation. More than 7-in-10 (71%) seniors (age 65 and older) identify as white Christian (29% white evangelical Protestant, 23% white mainline Protestant, and 17% white Catholic). By contrast, less than 3-in-10 (28%) Millennials (age 18-29) identify as white Christian (10% white evangelical Protestant, 9% white mainline Protestant, and 6% white Catholic).

Demographic differences are reflected in sharply contrasting evaluations of how American culture and way of life has changed since the 1950s. A majority (54%) of Americans say that since the 1950s, American culture and way of life has mostly changed for the worse, while 4-in-10 (40%) say it has mostly changed for the better.

  • There are significant racial divisions, with 61% of white Americans reporting that American culture has changed for the worse, while majorities of black (56%) and Hispanic Americans (51%) report that things have changed for the better.

When asked directly, only about 1-in-10 white, non-Hispanic Americans say they agree that the idea of an America where most people are not white bothers them, but when asked indirectly in a controlled survey experiment, agreement rises to nearly one-third (31%).

More than 6-in-10 (61%) Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college, a policy which comprises the basic elements of the DREAM Act. Approximately one-third (34%) of Americans oppose to this policy.

Few Americans favor a policy colloquially known as “self-deportation,” in which conditions are made so difficult for illegal immigrants that they return to their home country on their own. Approximately one-third (34%) of Americans agree that this is the best way to solve the country’s illegal immigration problem, while nearly two-thirds (64%) disagree.

Read the full report here.
Read the news release here.
Read a Spanish translation of the news release here.
Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology, here.
Read topline results from selected states here.
Read additional findings from the survey here.

The Religion, Values, and Immigration Survey also included questions about same-sex marriage, abortion, the environment, the role of government, and Americans’ attitudes toward Muslims. A full demographic analysis of these findings is available here.