Election 2016

One in Five Voters Say Immigration Stance Critical to Vote

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Story Highlights

  • One in five say candidate must share immigration views
  • Republicans most likely political group to require agreement
  • Immigrants above national average

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Twenty percent of U.S. registered voters say they will only vote for a candidate who shares their views on immigration, with another 60% saying it will be one of many important considerations they take into account. Registered voters who are Republican, first- or second-generation immigrants or Hispanics are more likely than others to say sharing a candidate's position on immigration is a must in order to win their vote.

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Immigration again promises to be an important issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, as the federal government has been unable to pass a comprehensive reform bill. It already has been one of the more discussed issues this year, in large part because Republican front-runner Donald Trump has made the issue the centerpiece of his campaign.

The question was included in Gallup's Minority Rights and Relations poll, conducted June 15-July 10. This is the first time Gallup has asked the question about immigration, so it is not known whether voters' orientation to the issue today is different from the past.

Earlier this year, Gallup found that 19% of registered voters would only vote for a candidate who shares their views on another highly divisive issue -- abortion -- which is similar to the percentage who say they must agree with a candidate on immigration (20%). But fewer voters said abortion would be one of many important factors to their vote (49%) than say this about immigration (60%), indicating immigration is broadly more important than abortion as a potential make-or-break issue for candidates.

Republicans' greater likelihood of saying they must agree with a candidate on immigration in order to support him or her suggests the issue should be a bigger factor in the Republican primaries than in the Democratic primaries. Republican candidates generally place a high priority on border security and do not favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. But some, like Trump, go further, offering a number of additional policies to limit immigration, such as deporting all undocumented immigrants and not granting automatic citizenship to children born in the U.S. whose parents are here illegally.

But in the general election campaign, immigration could work to the detriment of the eventual GOP nominee given immigrants' and Hispanics' above-average desire for agreement with their chosen candidate on the immigration issue, coupled with their generally pro-immigration views.

Although the 24% of blacks who say agreement on immigration is crucial to winning their vote is roughly the same percentage as immigrants, Republicans and Hispanics, nearly as many blacks, 26%, say immigration is not a major issue -- higher than for other subgroups.

Hard-Liners on Immigration Not More Likely to Require Candidate Agreement

The basic results by party don't alone indicate whether a more moderate candidate on immigration (such as Jeb Bush or any of the Democrats) or a hard-line candidate on immigration (most notably, Trump) would be more appealing to voters for whom immigration is a make-or-break issue. However, analyzing voting preferences by voters' views on immigration policy indicates it is not necessarily the hard-liners on immigration who are most likely to require agreement on the issue.

Specifically, 21% of registered voters who say all illegal immigrants should be deported say they will only vote for a candidate who shares their views on immigration, essentially matching the national average. Those who favor allowing illegal immigrants to stay and work for a limited time are a bit more likely to say their chosen candidate must agree with them on immigration.

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Although there aren't sufficient cases to analyze these immigration views by voters who identify politically as Republican, the limited data available suggest Republicans in favor of deporting undocumented immigrants back to their country are no more likely than Republicans with more moderate views on the issue to say they would only support a candidate sharing their views on immigration.

Implications

Earlier this year, Gallup found voters ranking immigration as relatively less important as an issue to their vote than the economy, healthcare and the federal government. However, that poll was taken before Trump entered the race. The Minority Rights and Relations poll reported here was conducted mostly after Trump announced his candidacy, finding about one in five registered voters saying they will only vote for a candidate who shares their views on immigration.

Currently, 8% of Americans name immigration as the most important problem facing the country, compared with 6% before Trump entered the race, which suggests his presence has not greatly elevated the issue as a priority for voters, and it may still not be as important of a factor in the election as some of the other issues like the economy and the government.

Nevertheless, immigration has arguably attracted more attention than any other issue in the 2016 campaign thus far, perhaps because of its divisive nature and its complexity, particularly around how to handle the millions of immigrants living in the U.S. who entered illegally but in many cases have established stable and productive lives in this country. And in a close primary or general election contest, even if it is less important than the economy and other issues, immigration could easily tilt the outcome toward one candidate or another.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 15-July 10, 2015, with a random sample of 1,987 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. All respondents had previously been interviewed in the Gallup Daily tracking survey and agreed to be re-contacted by Gallup. For results based on the total sample of registered voters, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 808 non-Hispanic whites, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 739 non-Hispanic blacks, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 343 Hispanics, the margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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