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Public Opinion and Political Takeaways on Immigration – What Democrats Need to Know

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America is not nearly as anti-immigration as the White House and some Democrats seem to fear. Democrats can win the “solutions” debate on this issue, in part by broadening the discussion from just the myopic border focus, and by contrasting their support for a broad and balanced approach to immigration with Republicans’ embrace of extremism, cruelty, and a broken status quo. Several topline points to know, followed by a deeper dive on polling:

  • Polling shows real concerns among the American public about ensuring that we have an orderly immigration system and security of our borders, but that desire for assurance about control does not translate into a desire for policies that only focus on deterrence, border security or heavy-handed enforcement-only policies.
  • Instead, the public wants a balanced approach that both ensures orderliness at and around the border alongside durable and overwhelming support for citizenship for long-settled immigrants and a fair asylum system for new arrivals. Several recent polls have underscored the public’s overwhelming support for BOTH border security AND legal pathways and citizenship, not the either/or false choice offered by many politicians.
  • All of this takes place in the context of a larger desire for reform and solutions instead of a broken status quo and the Republicans’ vulnerability of opposing legal immigration and blocking a legislative fix. And amidst five straight election cycles in which the GOP’s embrace of nativism, anti-immigrant fear mongering and dangerous conspiracies spoke to the MAGA base, but alienated the majority of the electorate.

Find a deeper-dive of American polling and immigration public opinion below:

There are common threads between Americans’ immigration sentiments that unite a strong majority of the country: 

  • a desire for reform instead of the broken status quo 
  • policy solutions that balance border control and an orderly process for new arrivals with strong support for citizenship for the undocumented population. 

Recent polling: support for a balanced approach – border security AND legal status – vs. enforcement-only alternatives

  • Global Strategy Group for The Immigration Hub and VotoLatino (Battleground state polling, April 2023) underscored that voters see the immigration system as deeply broken – and want Washington to act. They also want a balanced solution that is secure AND humane; they want both border security and a pathway to citizenship. 
  • Bulfinch Group nationwide polling for National Immigration Forum (Nationwide polling, March 2023) found that by a 76-14% margin, registered voters supported: “Republicans and Democrats working together on immigration reforms that strengthen border security, allow immigrants brought to the United States as children to earn citizenship, and ensure a legal, reliable workforce for America’s farmers and ranchers.”
  • Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies for NBC News (Nationwide, January 2023) found overwhelming support for both citizenship and border security. By an 80-18% margin, respondents supported “providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements.” By a 72-25% margin, respondents supported “addressing immigration by increasing funding for border security.”
  • Midterm Election Voter Poll (12,000+ sample November 2022) found strong preference for balanced, “citizenship and border” reform package instead of GOP enforcement-only policy. In the Midterm Election Voter Poll, for example, by a 57-43% margin, respondents preferred a policy that paired citizenship and border security instead of the “enforcement first” approach.

Meanwhile, there remains overwhelming and consistent support for citizenship for Dreamers, pathways for other deeply rooted undocumented immigrants to become citizens, and fair asylum access in poll after poll:

  • Year after year and poll after poll, we see the same result: approximately 70-80 percent of the country want Congress to finally deliver permanent legal status. See battleground polling here from 2022 election cycle and snapshot of related polling here and here).
  • And Americans continue to support fair asylum access as part of their vision for a functional and fair immigration system. See here and here for two examples.

Reminder: Republicans’ embrace of extremism, including on immigration, alienates the majority of electorate

Fresh off a 2022 election cycle in which the GOP’s embrace of MAGA extremism and white nationalism contributed to electoral losses and underperformance, full-throated Republican nativism and extremism again threatens to alienate voters outside the MAGA base – especially if Democrats can portray themselves as the party of balanced solutions in contrast. Recall: 

  • Just as in the past cycles of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 – the GOP’s embrace of nativism, anti-immigrant fear mongering and dangerous conspiracies during the 2022 midterms spoke to the radicalized MAGA base, but alienated the majority of the electorate. 
    • Arizona during the 2022 midterm cycle was a case study, as GOP candidates like Kari Lake and Blake Masters ran two of the most virulently anti-immigrant GOP campaigns we tracked and Democrats like Senator Mark Kelly embraced a balanced approach. As Aaron Blake of the Washington Post covered, this wholesale embrace of MAGA extremism in Arizona backfired and even alienated some Republican voters.