Americans Remain Divided on Preferred Immigration Levels

Latest Gallup poll. Overall trends toward more support for immigration along with notable partisan divided along with demographic details:

Americans divide almost evenly on whether immigration to the U.S. should be increased (33%), decreased (31%) or kept at its present level (35%). These preferences are similar to last year’s readings but reflect greater support for increased immigration since the early 2000s, reaching a high of 34% in 2020. At the same time, there has been a decline in recent years in the percentage of Americans who want immigration decreased, with last year’s 28% the lowest in the trend.

Line graph. Americans’ preferences for immigration levels. Thirty-five percent of U.S. adults want immigration kept at its present level, while 33% want it increased and 31% decreased.

For much of Gallup’s trend dating back to 1965, the plurality (if not the majority) of Americans wanted immigration decreased. Three surveys conducted between 1993 and 1995 found more than six in 10 wanting immigration reduced. After 9/11, 58% held this view, and as recently as 2009, 50% did.

Meanwhile, relatively few Americans called for increased immigration, with the percentage holding that view not surpassing 20% until 2012. Since then, it has not gone below that level and has been the preferred option for one in three Americans each of the past two years.

The current results are based on a June 1-July 5 Gallup survey that included oversamples of Black and Hispanic adults to allow for more precise estimates of those subgroups. The overall sample was weighted so all racial and ethnic groups are represented in their proper proportions of the U.S. population.

These findings come at a time when the U.S. is struggling to control crossings at its southern border, with many of those migrants coming from Central American countries. June saw the largest number of attempted border crossings in more than two decades. At the same time, many U.S. businesses are currently having difficulty filling open job positions. In the longer term, the U.S. has an increasingly aging population that may not be able to fill the number of jobs needed in the future.

Gallup’s latest update finds 9% of Americans naming immigration as the most important problem facing the country. Only the government and race relations are mentioned more frequently.

Hispanic Americans More Likely to Favor Increased Immigration

Forty-two percent of Hispanic adults want immigration levels increased, compared with 32% of non-Hispanic Black and 30% of non-Hispanic White adults.

Overall, White Americans divide equally in their preference for immigration, while Black Americans slightly prefer keeping immigration levels the same.

Preferences for U.S. Immigration Levels, by Racial/Ethnic Group
In your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased or decreased?
Increased Present level Decreased
% % %
U.S. adults 33 35 31
Hispanic adults 42 33 25
Non-Hispanic White adults 30 33 35
Non-Hispanic Black adults 32 41 26
GALLUP, JUNE 1-JULY 5, 2021

Since Gallup began tracking racial/ethnic groups’ immigration attitudes in 2001, each has shown a greater preference for increased immigration, especially White Americans. That year, 10% of White Americans, 24% of Black Americans and 33% of Hispanic Americans favored increased immigration levels.

The racial/ethnic group differences, however, are not as great as those for party identification and education. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans, compared with 12% of Democrats, want to see immigration reduced. In contrast, half of Democrats and 10% of Republicans want it increased.

Additionally, half of Americans with a postgraduate education think immigration should be increased, double the percentage among those with a high school education or less.

Preferences for U.S. Immigration Levels, by Party Identification and Education
In your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased or decreased?
Increased Present level Decreased
% % %
Party identification
Democrats 50 37 12
Independents 34 36 29
Republicans 10 31 57
Educational attainment
Postgraduate 50 23 27
College graduate only 37 39 24
Some college 31 34 31
High school or less 25 38 35
GALLUP, JUNE 1-JULY 5, 2021

Most Americans Continue to View Immigration Positively

Though Americans are divided on how immigration levels should change, they widely agree that immigration is “a good thing” for the country today. Three in four U.S. adults hold this view, while 21% disagree and say it is “a bad thing.”

At least seven in 10 Americans have viewed immigration positively since 2015, and majorities have consistently done so since Gallup first asked the question in 2001. At its lowest, 52% said immigration was a good thing in Gallup’s first post-9/11 reading in 2002.

Line graph. Belief that immigration is a good thing for the country today. Currently 75% of U.S. adults say it is a good thing and 21% bad thing. Majorities have consistently said it was a good thing, ranging from 52% to 77%.

Majorities of all key subgroups think immigration is good for the country today, with little difference by racial/ethnic group. However, significant gaps by party identification and education exist, as Republicans are less likely than Democrats and independents to view immigration positively, and fewer college nongraduates than college graduates say it is a good thing.

Views of Immigration as a Good or Bad Thing for the U.S. Today, by Subgroup
Good thing Bad thing
% %
Race/Ethnicity
Hispanic adults 80 16
Non-Hispanic White adults 73 23
Non-Hispanic Black adults 74 23
Party identification
Democrats 84 13
Independents 79 17
Republicans 57 39
Educational attainment
Postgraduate 85 13
College graduate only 85 11
Some college 72 24
High school or less 68 29
GALLUP, JUNE 1-JULY 5, 2021

Over the past decade, all major subgroups, with the exception of Republicans, have become significantly more inclined to see immigration as a good thing for the U.S. In 2011, 53% of Republicans viewed immigration positively, compared with 57% today. By contrast, the increases were 16 percentage points among independents (from 63% to 79%) and 23 points among Democrats (from 61% to 84%).

Bottom Line

Immigration remains a challenging issue, and Congress has not been able to agree on legislation to address the matter in a comprehensive way. Over the past decade, Americans’ views have shifted, with more favoring increased immigration.

This year has seen a dramatic increase in attempted border crossings, and the Biden administration struggled this spring to house thousands of unaccompanied minor children entering the U.S. at its border with Mexico. President Joe Biden and his advisers have told migrants not to leave their home countries. Amid all this, Americans’ views on immigration have held steady compared with what they were last year when Donald Trump, who took a much stricter stance against immigration, was in office.

Although there is general agreement among Americans that immigration is good for the country, their even division on whether immigration levels should be changed may be frustrating efforts to pass legislation. Moreover, Republicans and Democrats disagree about the proper level of immigration, as well as about the urgency of the problem, further hampering U.S. political leaders’ ability to find solutions to the issue.

Source: Americans Remain Divided on Preferred Immigration Levels

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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