Americans’ views toward immigration are much more positive than they have been in recent years with 66% saying immigration is a good thing for the United States, up from 59% last year and close to the 2006 record of 67%.
The Gallup poll was conducted just days before the Obama administration put immigration back into the headlines by announcing that it would bypass Congress and stop deporting undocumented immigrants who came to the US illegally as children, a change that would affect hundreds of thousands of people.
An update to one of Gallup’s longest standing questions on immigration finds more Americans in favour of keeping levels the same at 42% compared with 35% who favour decreasing them. For most of the past 40 years, the opposite has been true, with more calling for decreased immigration than keeping the status quo.
In fact, the 35% who now favour decreased immigration is the lowest Gallup has measured on this trend since 1965. At the same time, the 21% who favour increased immigration is the largest percentage Gallup has measured.
The high point in support for decreased immigration came in the early to mid 1990s, when the state of California took action against illegal immigrants living there.
The apparent softening toward immigration is also evident in a separate question that finds a shift in Americans’ immigration priorities. The poll finds 55% saying the main focus of immigration policy should be to deal with immigrants in the US illegally, while 41% believe it should be halting the flow of illegal immigrants into the US. In Gallup surveys dating back to 2006, Americans consistently preferred that the US to concentrate its efforts on stopping illegal immigration.
While it is unclear if Americans favour or oppose the new immigration steps Obama announced, the new policy does fall under Americans’ now preferred focus point on immigration, as it partially addresses the fate of some illegal immigrants already in the United States.
Americans’ more positive outlook on immigration this year is generally evident among all party groups, more so among Democrats and Republicans than independents. Democrats are more positive about immigration than Republicans and independents.
The reasons behind Americans’ more positive views of immigration are unclear. Immigration levels are slowing in the United States, so perhaps Americans, to the extent they are aware, see less of a need to limit it.
Also, the government’s inability to enact comprehensive reform during the Bush or Obama administrations may have given the issue less political urgency.
Gallup did find immigration ranking among the least important issues when Americans were asked which would be most important to their 2012 presidential vote. Some 2% currently say it is the most important problem facing the country, down from a high of 19% in April 2006.
‘It is possible the issue could rise in salience in the near term, though, given the Obama administration’s recent move, and the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on the Arizona immigration law,’ said Gallup.
‘The way Americans react to those events could cause a change in their immigration attitudes, but for now, Americans have a more positive orientation toward immigration than at any point in at least six years,’ it added.