USA: Public Opinion Shifts in a Pro-Immigration Direction

Of note. Dysfunctional US political system does not translate shift into political action:

Since 1965, Gallup has been polling Americans about whether they want immigration levels to decrease, increase, or remain the same. Last year, the percentage of Americans who want to increase immigration rose above the percentage who want to decrease it for the first time. In 2021, that shift held with more respondents again supporting increasing immigration than decreasing it (Figure 1). The support for increasing legal immigration may have narrowed in 2021 to 33 percent from 35 percent in 2020, but the changes are so small that they are likely statistically insignificant.

Consistent with the general rise in support for increasing immigration, a large majority of Americans still believe that immigration is a good thing for the United States (Figure 2). Just like in Figure 1, the percentage saying it’s a good thing has declined by 2 percentage points but that is a small shift a statistically insignificant shift. Although this is consistent with pro‐​immigration policy views, it also includes those who like the current level of immigration.

However, an even more important shift has continued in U.S. opinion about immigration. Since 2001, Gallup has asked this question: “(Asked of those dissatisfied with level of immigration into U.S.) Would you like to see the level of immigration in this country increased, decreased or remain about the same?” Respondents who are dissatisfied with the level of immigration are increasingly likely to be dissatisfied because they think that there is too little immigration. I wrote about this last year but the trend has grown in 2021 (Figure 3). In 2020, 26 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the level of immigration and they wanted to decrease immigration. By 2021, that percentage had fallen to 19 percent. The percent of those who were dissatisfied and wanted an increase stayed about the same and the percent of those satisfied climbed slightly.

That’s a tectonic shift. From 2001–2016, an average of 63 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the level of immigration. Only about 5 percent of respondents were dissatisfied and wanted to increase immigration levels and a whopping 44 percent of the dissatisfied wanted to decrease them (Figure 3). This began to change shortly after President Trump took office. From 2017–2020, an average of about 11 percent of respondents wanted to increase immigration levels while 28 percent were dissatisfied and wanted to decrease them. By the end of the Trump administration, there was still quite a gap among those dissatisfied with immigration, but it had narrowed.

We’re clearly seeing a shift in public opinion where those who dislike the current system are beginning to dislike it because it’s too restrictive. To the extent that we can believe surveys that measure opinions unexpressed through concrete actions like voting, this is a big shift. So far, virtually all of the political energy and enthusiasm has been for immigration restriction. Anti‐​immigration voters cared a lot more about this issue than pro‐​immigration voters. Now, the decline in the percent of respondents who are dissatisfied and who want less immigration is beginning to look like the collapse in anti‐​immigration sentiment that began in the mid‐​1990s (Figure 1).

One doubt I had about this change in behavior last year was that this increased pro‐​immigration opinion was just a reaction to President Trump and that it would fade out after he left office. In other words, I was worried that this was just an ephemeral liberal reaction of President Trump rather than a real and sustained change in opinion. But since the 2021 survey results show that only 19 percent of respondents are dissatisfied and want less immigration, a number 7 percentage points below the previous response in 2020, that is an indication that the pro‐​immigration sentiment of the American public is continuing to increase in the Biden administration. That improvement is especially surprising considering the rise in apprehensions along the border.

This appears to be a positive and sustainable change in American public opinion.

Source: Public Opinion Shifts in a Pro-Immigration Direction | Cato at …https://www.cato.org › blog › public-opinion-shifts-pro…

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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