Amid Immigration Debate, Americans' Views Ease Slightly

by Lymari Morales

Preference for decreased immigration remains, but to a lesser degree than a year ago

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans remain more likely to say immigration should be decreased (45%) rather than kept at its present level (34%) or increased (17%), but the gap between the two most popular options has narrowed from a year ago. The shift comes amid continuing political and legal wrangling over comprehensive immigration reform and the passage of Arizona's contested immigration law.

1999-2010 Trend: In Your View, Should Immigration Be Kept at Its Present Level, Increased, or Decreased?

The Gallup survey conducted July 8-11, 2010, marks an easing of views from last year, when Americans more clearly favored less immigration over the status quo, and a return to the more divided views of 2007. The national debate over immigration, plus Arizona's new law and an improving but still struggling economy are likely all in play as Americans assess the issue. Americans have generally been tougher on immigration since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, than they were immediately before them, in most instances supporting less immigration rather than the same amount or more, but rarely providing a clear mandate.

The majority of Americans continue to say immigration, on the whole, is a good thing rather than a bad thing for the country -- though they are less positive about it now than they have been at most points in the last decade.

2001-2010 Trend: On the Whole, Do You Think Immigration Is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing for This Country Today?

All three party groups follow the same pattern as the national averages, with at least a plurality preferring decreased immigration and a majority saying immigration overall is a good thing. Republicans are the most likely to favor reduced immigration, but views by party do not diverge to the extent they do on other issues.

Views About Immigration, by Party ID, July 2010


Gallup continues to find Americans expressing fairly nuanced views on immigration. While Americans are consistent in saying they do not want immigration increased, they are more divided and wavering about whether immigration should be decreased or kept at its present level. Americans see value in both halting the incoming flow of illegal immigrants and dealing with those currently in the United States. They are also more likely to favor than oppose Arizona's new immigration law and more likely to oppose than favor the federal government lawsuit to block that law.

Federal action to date reflects a sense of the complexities involved. While immigration reform has yet to become a near-term legislative priority, President Obama earlier this month said his administration would demand more accountability for enforcing existing immigration laws, and urged all parties to move beyond "the two poles of this debate." According to a report in Monday's Washington Post, the administration is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants and performing more audits of businesses believed to be hiring illegal workers.

Immigration ranks fourth among the most important problems facing the country in the same July 8-11 Gallup poll, conducted prior to the passage of financial reform legislation -- which up to now presented a competing priority. As lawmakers consider how to address the immigration issue going forward, they would be wise to remember that Americans tend to see immigration as a good thing but at the same time tend to want less of it. Taken together, their views suggest widespread support for policies to make legal -- rather than illegal -- immigration the norm.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 8-11, 2010, with a random sample of 1,020 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.

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