Americans' Views of Immigration Growing More Positive

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Current views most positive since Sept. 11

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Many Americans continue to see illegal immigration as a problem for the United States today, but more general views of immigration are the most positive they have been in the last five years. Two in three Americans think immigration is good for the country today. After several years in which more Americans favored a decrease in immigration levels, the current poll finds more favor keeping levels the same. While nearly half of Americans -- including a majority of Hispanics -- believe there are too many immigrants to the United States from Latin American countries, the public is less likely to hold this view than it was during the early 1990s.

Gallup's annual Minority Rights and Relations Poll has tracked Americans' attitudes toward immigration since 2001. Each year's poll includes large samples of blacks and Hispanics, with interviewing conducted in both English and Spanish. This year's poll was conducted June 8-25, interviewing more than 2,000 adults nationwide, including 500 blacks and 506 Hispanics.

Basic Views of Immigration

Since April, immigration has ranked among Americans' top concerns on Gallup's "most important problem" question. In the Minority Relations poll, 17% of Americans mentioned "immigration" or "illegal aliens," putting it second only to the war in Iraq (25%).

While the issue of illegal immigration has attracted scrutiny from the media and political leaders, Americans' views of immigration more generally have become increasingly positive. The poll finds most Americans, including majorities of non-Hispanic whites, blacks, and Hispanics saying immigration is "a good thing for this country today." In fact, the percentage of Americans who say this in the current poll, 67%, is the most positive viewpoint Gallup has measured since the question was first asked, in 2001.

Sixty-eight percent of whites, 60% of blacks, and 76% of Hispanics think immigration is good for the country today. In the five years Gallup has asked this question, Hispanics have always had the most positive evaluation of immigration, and blacks the least positive.

Americans took a more critical view of immigration following the Sept. 11 terror attacks; this perspective persisted for several years on a range of immigration attitudes, but that effect appears to have dissipated. In the 2002 Minority Rights and Relations poll -- the first conducted after Sept. 11 -- just 46% of blacks and 51% of whites said immigration was good for the country. Since that time, the percentage giving contemporary immigration a positive review has grown by 14 percentage points among blacks and 17 points among whites. Hispanics' views on immigration were less affected in the wake of Sept. 11, but have still shown a modest decline and recovery over the last several years.

Immigration Levels

Views of the proper immigration levels have also returned to their pre-9/11 state. Now, 42% of Americans say immigration should be kept at its present level and 39% say it should be decreased. From October 2001 until earlier this year, more Americans said immigration levels should be decreased rather than maintained. Relatively few Americans have ever expressed the view that immigration levels should be increased.

The plurality of whites and Hispanics believe immigration should be kept at its present level. Blacks favor a decrease rather than a continuation of the current level, but by a small 39% to 35% margin. Hispanics are more likely than whites to favor increased immigration, but only about one in five Hispanics do so.

Whites' and blacks' opinions on immigration levels have changed significantly in the past year. Last year, 50% of whites favored decreased immigration levels and only 33% favored keeping them the same. Blacks' views have not changed as much, as they favored a decrease by a slightly larger 44% to 32% margin than today's 39% to 35% gap. The 2005 views of blacks and whites on this issue were typical of each group's views from 2002 to 2005.

Americans do not necessarily believe that immigrants from different parts of the world should have the same chances to enter the United States. Nearly half of Americans believe there are too many immigrants from Latin American countries entering the United States. Notably, Hispanics (55%) are more likely to believe this than are whites or blacks (46% each). A substantial percentage of Americans believe there are too many immigrants from Arab (39%) and Asian countries (31%), while only about one in five say the same about immigrants from African or European countries.

Percentage of Americans Saying There Are
"Too Many" Immigrants From Different Parts of the World
Entering the United States
,
June 8-25 Gallup Poll


Too many

About right

Too few

%

%

%

African countries

19

53

20

Arab countries

39

38

12

Asian countries

31

54

7

European countries

20

56

17

Latin American countries

48

40

6

The public is less likely to express concern about immigrants entering the United States from different parts of the world today than it was in June 2002, when the question was last updated. The only exception to that is for Latin American immigrants, about whom views have generally held steady since 2002.

Percentage of Americans Saying There Are
"Too Many" Immigrants From Different Parts of the World
Entering the United States


Immigrants from:

1984

1992-1993 ^

2002

2006

%

%

%

%

African countries

31

46

29

19

Arab countries

N/A

64

54

39

Asian countries

49

60

39

31

European countries

26

35

25

20

Latin American countries

53

66

46

48

^ Based on average of two polls conducted in 1992 and 1993; Arab data based on 1993 poll

In fact, the current numbers for each group are the lowest (or statistically tied for the lowest) Gallup has measured. The high point for each of the five groups came in the early 1990s, when a strong anti-immigration tide swept the country. Even with the illegal immigration issue as salient as it is this year, Americans were much more likely to believe there were too many Latin American immigrants in the early 1990s (66%) than to believe there are today (48%).

In 2002, Americans were most likely to say there were too many Arab immigrants, but with a sharp 15-point decline in that sentiment, the public is now most likely to believe there are too many Latin American immigrants.

Why the More Positive Views of Immigration?

There are several reasons that may explain the more positive evaluations of immigration even as Americans recognize illegal immigration as an important problem for the country.

First, Americans are not necessarily negatively disposed toward illegal immigration. Gallup Polls have shown only a small minority of the public to be in favor of deporting illegal immigrants living in the United States back to their home countries; most favor allowing them an opportunity to earn citizenship. Americans do express some anti-illegal immigration views -- for example, they believe illegal immigrants cost taxpayers too much by using public services -- but Americans are not universally negative on the subject.

Second, the context by which Americans evaluate immigration may have changed. In the post-9/11 environment, Americans may have thought about immigration in terms of potential Arab terrorists entering the country, whereas now the focus is on people crossing the border from Mexico to perform menial jobs. Clearly, the former type of immigrant would be more threatening to the average American than the latter. This argument is supported by the decline in Americans' perceptions in the last few years that there are too many Arab immigrants entering the United States, while now more Americans believe there are too many Latin American immigrants.

Also, Americans may be more supportive of immigration done legally when illegal immigration is perceived to be a problem. Though this seems plausible, in the past Gallup has found Americans answer questions similarly whether they ask about "immigration" in general or "illegal immigration" in particular. It is possible that Americans are now making more of a distinction between the two as attention to the immigration issue has increased.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 2,032 adults, including oversamples of 500 blacks and 506 Hispanics, aged 18 years and older, conducted June 8-25, 2006. The total sample is weighted so that it reflects the national adult population. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±6 percentage points. 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.

For results based on the sample of 500 blacks, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 506 Hispanics, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points (167 out of the 506 interviews with Hispanics were conducted in Spanish).

For results based on the sample of 872 non-Hispanic whites, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points.

Thinking now about immigrants -- that is, people who come from other countries to live here in the United States,

10. In your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?

Present level

Increased

Decreased

No opinion

Total

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

42

17

39

2

2005 Jun 6-25

34

16

46

4

2004 Jun 9-30

33

14

49

4

2003 Jun 12-18

37

13

47

3

2002 Jun 3-9

36

12

49

3

2001 Jun 11-17

42

14

41

3

Non-Hispanic Whites

2006 Jun 8-25

46

12

41

1

2005 Jun 6-25

33

14

50

3

2004 Jun 9-30

34

13

51

2

2003 Jun 12-15

38

11

49

2

2002 Jun 3-6

36

9

52

3

2001 Jun 11-17

42

10

45

3

Blacks

2006 Jun 8-25

35

21

39

5

2005 Jun 6-25

32

18

44

6

2004 Jun 9-30

34

15

47

4

2003 Jun 12-18

33

20

44

3

2002 Jun 3-9

34

16

46

4

2001 Jun 11-17

42

24

31

3

Hispanics

2006 Jun 8-25

42

21

32

4

2005 Jun 6-25

41

21

32

6

2004 Jun 9-30

33

23

39

5

2003 Jun 12-18

35

24

36

5

2002 Jun 3-9

37

24

37

2

2001 Jun 11-17

38

33

25

4

FULL NATIONAL ADULT TREND

Present level

Increased

Decreased

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

42

17

39

2

2006 Apr 7-9

35

15

47

4

2005 Dec 9-11 ^

31

15

51

3

2005 Jun 6-25

34

16

46

4

2004 Jun 9-30

33

14

49

4

2003 Jun 12-18

37

13

47

3

2002 Sep 2-4

26

17

54

3

2002 Jun 3-9

36

12

49

3

2001 Oct 19-21

30

8

58

4

2001 Jun 11-17

42

14

41

3

2001 Mar 26-28

41

10

43

6

2000 Sep 11-13

41

13

38

8

1999 Feb 26-28 ^

41

10

44

5

1995 Jul 7-9

27

7

62

4

1995 Jun 5-6

24

7

65

4

1993 Jul 9-11

27

6

65

2

1986 Jun 19-23 †

35

7

49

9

1977 Mar 25-28

37

7

42

14

1965 Jun 24-29

39

7

33

20

^ Asked of a half sample

† CBS/New York Times poll

11. On the whole, do you think immigration is a good thing or a bad thing for this country today?

Good thing

Bad thing

MIXED (vol.)

No opinion

Total

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

67

28

4

1

2005 Jun 6-25

61

34

3

2

2003 Jun 12-18

58

36

4

2

2002 Jun 3-9

52

42

4

2

2001 Jun 11-17

62

31

5

2

Non-Hispanic Whites

2006 Jun 8-25

68

27

4

1

2005 Jun 6-25

60

36

2

2

2003 Jun 12-15

58

38

3

1

2002 Jun 3-6

51

43

4

2

2001 Jun 11-17

62

32

4

2

Blacks

2006 Jun 8-25

60

35

3

2

2005 Jun 6-25

55

36

5

4

2003 Jun 12-18

48

45

6

1

2002 Jun 3-9

46

46

6

2

2001 Jun 11-17

61

28

7

4

Hispanics

2006 Jun 8-25

76

18

4

2

2005 Jun 6-25

74

19

4

3

2003 Jun 12-18

65

29

4

2

2002 Jun 3-9

67

27

4

2

2001 Jun 11-17

73

18

2

7

(vol.) = Volunteered response

12. Do you think the number of immigrants now entering the U.S. from each of the following areas is too many, too few, or about the right amount -- how about immigrants from -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

2006 Jun 8-25
based on "too many"
(sorted by "total")


National
adults

Non-Hispanic
whites



Blacks



Hispanics

%

%

%

%

Latin American countries

48

46

46

55

Arab countries

39

39

39

31

Asian countries

31

29

33

32

European countries

20

17

27

16

African countries

19

17

16

19

Full Trends:

A. European countries

Too many

Too few

About right

No
opinion

Total

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

20

17

56

8

2002 Jun 3-9

25

12

53

10

Non-Hispanic Whites

2006 Jun 8-25

17

17

60

7

2002 Jun 3-6

25

9

57

9

Blacks

2006 Jun 8-25

27

11

53

9

2002 Jun 3-9

31

17

43

9

Hispanics

2006 Jun 8-25

16

22

49

13

2002 Jun 3-9

26

20

44

10

FULL NATIONAL ADULT TREND

Too many

Too few

About right

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

20

17

56

8

2002 Jun 3-9

25

12

53

10

1993 Jul 9-11

33

10

52

5

1992 Feb 6-9

36

7

52

5

1984 Jun 1-3

26

11

50

13

B. Latin American countries

Too many

Too few

About right

No
opinion

Total

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

48

6

40

6

2002 Jun 3-9

46

5

41

8

Non-Hispanic Whites

2006 Jun 8-25

46

5

43

6

2002 Jun 3-6

46

4

42

8

Blacks

2006 Jun 8-25

46

9

39

7

2002 Jun 3-9

40

12

40

8

Hispanics

2006 Jun 8-25

55

9

31

5

2002 Jun 3-9

50

11

35

4

FULL NATIONAL ADULT TREND

Too many

Too few

About right

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

48

6

40

6

2002 Jun 3-9

46

5

41

8

1993 Jul 9-11

62

5

29

4

1992 Feb 6-9

69

5

22

4

1984 Jun 1-3

53

5

30

12

C. African countries

Too many

Too few

About right

No
opinion

Total

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

19

20

53

8

2002 Jun 3-9

29

13

48

10

Non-Hispanic Whites

2006 Jun 8-25

17

16

59

8

2002 Jun 3-6

31

9

51

9

Blacks

2006 Jun 8-25

16

35

43

6

2002 Jun 3-9

28

26

40

6

Hispanics

2006 Jun 8-25

19

29

39

13

2002 Jun 3-9

18

24

44

14

FULL NATIONAL ADULT TREND

Too many

Too few

About right

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

19

20

53

8

2002 Jun 3-9

29

13

48

10

1993 Jul 9-11

44

9

40

7

1992 Feb 6-9

47

10

36

7

1984 Jun 1-3

31

12

37

20

D. Asian countries

Too many

Too few

About right

No
opinion

Total

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

31

7

54

9

2002 Jun 3-9

39

5

47

9

Non-Hispanic Whites

2006 Jun 8-25

29

5

57

8

2002 Jun 3-6

38

4

49

9

Blacks

2006 Jun 8-25

33

13

45

8

2002 Jun 3-9

47

7

39

7

Hispanics

2006 Jun 8-25

32

13

42

13

2002 Jun 3-9

34

15

41

10

FULL NATIONAL ADULT TREND

Too many

Too few

About right

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

31

7

54

9

2002 Jun 3-9

39

5

47

9

1993 Jul 9-11

62

4

29

5

1992 Feb 6-9

58

4

32

6

1984 Jun 1-3

49

6

33

12

E. Arab countries

Too many

Too few

About right

No
opinion

Total

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

39

12

38

11

2002 Jun 3-9

54

5

33

8

Non-Hispanic Whites

2006 Jun 8-25

39

11

39

10

2002 Jun 3-6

56

3

33

8

Blacks

2006 Jun 8-25

39

15

36

10

2002 Jun 3-9

52

8

32

8

Hispanics

2006 Jun 8-25

31

18

36

14

2002 Jun 3-9

46

16

28

10

FULL NATIONAL ADULT TREND

Too many

Too few

About right

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Jun 8-25

39

12

38

11

2002 Jun 3-9

54

5

33

8

1993 Jul 9-11

64

6

24

6

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