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Snapshot of Polling and Public Opinion on Immigration Executive Action & Larger Debate

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Last updated: February 12, 2015

Examining a range of recent polling and public opinion research on immigration finds a few consistent takeaways:

  • On executive action: A majority of the American public backs the president’s executive actions on immigration, while simultaneously opposing Republican attempts to block or overturn the step forward.  As is true for any new issue, the question wording matters hugely and can influence the specific poll results.  In particular, recent poll questions that describe the substance of the president’s announced immigration executive actions and the requirements for eligibility for the DACA/DAPA programs receive broader levels of support than questions lacking context and/or those more focused on the process rather than the substance/beneficiaries of the announcement.
  • On the larger immigration debate and a pathway to citizenship: Questions that ask respondents’ views on the larger immigration debate, in particular regarding policies to treat undocumented immigrants, find broad support for a pathway to citizenship.  Americans’ support for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship remains durable, with a consistent two-thirds or more of the public backing a path to citizenship both before and after the executive action announcement.
  • On Latino voters: Latino voters back immigration executive action by huge margins and the president’s approval rating among Latinos has shot back up.

Most Americans Support the Substance of President Obama’s Immigration Executive Actions, Oppose Republican Attempts to Block/Overturn, & Strongly Back a Comprehensive Reform Package Including a Pathway to Citizenship

  • Public Religion Research Institute (Feb. 2015): The PRRI poll finds that by a 73-17% margin, Americans prefer Congress pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill rather than legislation designed to overturn immigration executive action (85% of Democrats, 73% of Independents, and 62% of Republicans favor a CIR-focused approach instead of one focused on repealing executive action).  Overall, the public supports last November’s executive actions by a 52-42% margin (a slight uptick in support for executive action since last December).  Additionally, as the PRRI poll recap states, despite some vocal opposition “to Obama’s use of executive action, the substance of the policy remains popular,” finding that when provided with a detailed description of last November’s executive actions, by a 76-19% margin, Americans favor of “allowing illegal immigrants who are the parents of children with legal status to stay in the U.S. for a period of up to three years if they pass a background check and have lived in the U.S. for at least five years.”  Finally, PRRI continues to find broad and durable support for a pathway to citizenship and minimal support for a deportation-focused policy: 78% of the public supports either a path to citizenship (59%) or legalization without citizenship (19%), while only 18% support a deportation-focused policy for undocumented immigrants in America.
  • CBS News (Jan 2015): By a 62-34% margin, Americans support “an executive order that would allow some illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to stay here temporarily and apply for a work permit if certain requirements are met.” By a 48-46% margin, Americans think the president “acted within his authority,” on last November’s executive actions.  By a larger 55-40% margin, Americans think Congress should let these executive actions stand instead of trying to “stop this executive order on immigration.” Additionally, a combined 69% of Americans support an immigration plan that would allow undocumented immigrants to stay legally in the U.S. (54% citizenship, 15% legal status but no path to citizenship, and 27% “required to leave the U.S.”).
  • NBC News/WSJ (Jan 2015): By a 52-44% margin, Americans support executive action described as follows: “As you may know, in November President Obama signed an executive action on immigration because of his concerns that Congress had not passed legislation on this issue. The president’s executive action granted temporary legal status and removed the threat of deportation for an estimated four million foreigners staying illegally in the United States who have been in the country more than five years, have no criminal record, and are parents.”  Of those who “disapproved,” 22% disapproved because they don’t think the president should act without Congress, 15% disapproved of the immigration policy itself, and 7% disapproved for both reasons. 58% say “passing immigration legislation that would do more to secure our southern border with Mexico” should be an “absolute priority for this year,” while 26% say it can be delayed until next year, and 14% say it shouldn’t be pursued.
  • Washington Post/ABC (Jan 2015): By a 41-56% margin, Americans in the Post/ABC poll support blocking the executive action vs. allowing it to go forward – of note, the wording is an outlier from other pollsters’ questions: “Obama has taken executive action allowing as many as four million undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation. The Republicans in Congress say they may take away federal funding so this order cannot be carried out. Do you think Obama’s action on immigration should go forward, or should it be blocked?
  • Public Religion Research Institute (December 2014). The poll from PRRI found that by a 72%-27% margin, Americans favor executive action described as, “allowing illegal immigrants who are the parents of children with legal status to stay in the U.S. for three years without being subject to deportation if they pass a background check and have lived in the country at least five years,” (82% of Democrats, 70% of Independents, and 62% of Republicans support).  When asked to judge the appropriateness of the action, a combined 59% of Americans said either the action was “about right” (33%) or “did not go far enough” (26%), versus only 34% who said it “went too far.”  In response to a question stating, “Given that Congress has not yet acted to address the immigration issue, do you think President Obama should or should not have taken executive action on immigration?” 50% said yes while 45% said no.  The public also strongly favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as the poll found 58% of Americans support a pathway to citizenship provided they meet certain requirements, 19% support legal residency but not citizenship, and just 20% support deportation.
  • CNN/ORC (Nov. 2014) According to a CNN/ORC poll, 72% of Americans believe the policy changes are either “about right” (50%) or “not far enough” (22%), while 26% say it goes “too far.”  Sixty percent of Americans in the CNN/ORC poll say Republicans should not sue to try to stop Obama’s immigration plans, and 76% say they should spend their time trying to pass a comprehensive reform bill rather than trying to stop the President from acting.  Additionally, President Obama’s numbers on his handling of immigration issues rose ten points since September, according to CNN/ORC polling.
  • Hart Research (Nov. 2014): A Hart Research poll from late November found by a 67%-28% margin, Americans support action to “direct immigration enforcement officials to focus on threats to national security and public safety, and not on deporting otherwise law-abiding immigrants.  Immigrants who are parents of children who are legal US residents could qualify to stay and work temporarily in the United States, without being deported, if they have lived in the United States for at least five years, pay taxes, and pass a criminal background check.”  This description of executive action received support from 91% of Democrats, 67% of independents, and 41% of Republicans.  Additionally, the public opposes potential Republican countermeasures – by a 72%-24% margin, voters are opposed to Republicans shutting down the government until the president agrees to end his executive action and by a 63%-32% margin, voters oppose impeachment proceedings.  After hearing a detailed debate over executive action, voters supported executive action by an even larger margin, 69% to 27%, while also saying they had more confidence in President Obama (44%) than in Republicans in Congress (35%) to deal with immigration.

President Obama’s Approval Rating on the Rise – Thanks in Part to Latino Voters

Of note and in contrast to some Republican predictions, President Obama’s overall approval rating is on the uptick since the executive action announcement. The Washington Post/ABC poll found President Obama’s approval rating is now at 50% – a jump of seven percentage points since last October.  Though the Post/ABC numbers are a few percentage points higher than many other polls, the overall upward trend is consistent.

While much of the analysis credits recent good economic news in driving Obama’s approval upwards, Latino voters’ reinvigorated support for President Obama also has played a role and is a direct result of the president’s immigration executive action announcement.

Numbers from Gallup’s weekly tracking poll show that President Obama’s executive actions on immigration reignited his popularity among Latino voters.  As Roque Planas captured in the Huffington Post in December, “President Barack Obama’s approval rating among Hispanics shot up 10 points to 68 percent after he announced his administration would offer deportation relief to an estimated 4.4 million undocumented immigrants…His approval rating among Latinos has hovered in the fifties since May of this year, dropping to a low point of 44 percent in the first week of September,” which was right after the announced delay on executive action.  The latest Gallup weekly tracking poll data (week of Jan. 18th) find that 69% of Latino voters support President Obama.

Latino Voters Overwhelmingly Back Executive Action

  • Latino Decisions – 89%-10% support among Latino voters for executive action (Nov. 2014): According to Latino Decisions polling from late November (comprised entirely of registered Latino voter respondents rather than just Latino adults) 89% of Latinos (including 95% of Latino Democrats, 81% of Independents, and 76% of Republicans) support the president’s executive action on immigration.  The poll asked, “President Obama has said that Congress had many chances to pass an immigration bill and they failed.  Now Obama has enacted executive action to provide relief from deportation for any undocumented immigrant who has not committed a crime, has lived here 5 or more years and is a parent of a U.S. citizen or legal resident child here in the U.S., and providing them with temporary work permits to they have legal status.  Do you support or oppose President Obama taking this executive action?”  Large majorities of Latino voters in the poll also thought Republicans in Congress bear the brunt of responsibility for the lack of progress on immigration (64%) and opposed Republicans’ attempts to obstruct the Administration’s new plans by filing lawsuits (74%) or restricting funding (80%).
  • Public Religion Research Institute – 89%-11% support among Latinos for executive action (Dec. 2014) : In their early December poll, PRRI found that Latinos overwhelmingly supported executive action and that Latino enthusiasm for President Obama had jumped significantly.  By an 89%-11% margin, Latinos in the PRRI poll supported the following description of executive action – “Allowing illegal immigrants who are the parents of children with legal status to stay in the U.S. for three years without being subject to deportation, if they pass a background check and have lived in the country for at least five years.”  As the PRRI poll write-up states, “In the wake of the high profile announcement about the executive action on immigration, President Obama’s job approval rating among Hispanics increased significantly.  Currently, more than 6-in-10 (62%) Hispanics say they approve of the job Obama is doing as President—a marked uptick from October 2014 when fewer than half (46%) of Hispanics expressed approval.”  Additionally, Latinos are paying attention to the executive action debate – PRRI found that 40% of Latinos said they have heard a lot about the executive action announcement and an additional 45% said they have heard “a little.”
  • Gallup – 64%-28% support among Latinos for executive action (Dec 2014): Gallup polling from December found that by a 64%-28% margin, Latinos in the U.S. support President Obama’s executive action.  Gallup first asked, “How closely are you following the news about executive actions President Obama plans to take dealing with certain categories of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S?” before following with, “From what you know about them, do you strongly approve, approve, disapprove or strongly disapprove of these executive actions President Obama plans to take?”