Americans Overwhelmingly Back Legalization over Deportation
Americans support legalization/citizenship over deportation by 3:1 or 4:1 margins: Recent 2016 and 2017 immigration polling from Quinnipiac, Pew Research, New York Times/CBS, Washington Post/ABC News, CNN, Gallup, and even Fox News each found that between 72% and 88% of Americans back either citizenship or legalization for undocumented immigrants over deportation.
Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)’s massive-sample American Values Atlas includes state-specific data on a three-part legalization vs. deportation question (“should immigrants who are currently living here illegally should be allowed a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements; be allowed to become permanent legal residents but not citizens; or identified and deported?”). Nationwide, PRRI found 79% of Americans backed either citizenship (64%) or permanent legal residency without citizenship (15%) vs. only 16% who supported the deportation option. Only 29% of GOP respondents supported the deportation option. The large sample from PRRI also allowed for state-specific breakdowns:
- Indiana: 64% citizenship, 13% legalization, 18% deportation.
- Missouri: 57% citizenship, 12% legalization, 25% deportation.
- Montana: 57% citizenship, 11% legalization, 26% deportation.
- North Dakota: 60% citizenship, 11% legalization, 24% deportation.
- Ohio: 62% citizenship, 12% legalization; 20% deportation.
- Pennsylvania: 63% citizenship, 12% legalization, 20% deportation.
March 2017 CNN immigration polling found that 90% of Americans, including 87% of Republicans, back an earned path to citizenship. The CNN poll also found that, by a 71%-27% margin, Americans oppose the notion that the government seek to “deport all people currently living in the U.S. illegally; and that by a 58%-40% margin, Americans are more worried that deportations under the Trump Administration will go too far rather than not far enough.
A post-election, November 2016 Quinnipiac poll found that, by a combined 72-25% margin, Americans support policies allowing undocumented immigrants to stay rather than be required to leave the U.S. (60% support a pathway to citizenship, 12% support legalization short of citizenship, and 25% say they should leave). Of note, the 60% support for citizenship and the combined 72% for “stay” are each record highs in the four years Quinnipiac has asked the question, while the 25% support for “required to leave” is tied for the record low (see trendline here).
2016 General Election Exit Polls – National and State-Specific Immigration Polling
The November 2016 national exit poll asked voters whether “most illegal immigrants working in the United States” should be “offered a chance to apply for legal status” or “deported to the country they came from.” American voters backed legalization over deportation by a 70-25% margin. Additionally, American voters opposed “building a wall along the entire U.S. border with Mexico” by a 54-41% margin. In state-specific exit immigration polling in 2016 (MT and ND not available):
- In Indiana, 2016 general election voters supported legalization over deportation by a 67-30% margin
- In Missouri, 2016 general election voters supported legalization over deportation by a 62-35% margin
- In Ohio, 2016 general election voters supported legalization over deportation by a 58-36% margin. The Ohio exit polls also asked whether immigrants today help or hurt the United States – Ohio voters said “help” over “hurt” by a 47-43% margin
- In Pennsylvania, 2016 general election voters supported legalization over deportation by a 67-31% margin
2016 GOP Primary Exit Polls Overview
In 18 of the 20 states where Republican 2016 primary exit polls asked the question, GOP primary voters supported offering undocumented immigrants “a chance to apply for legal status” instead of deportation by an average margin of 53%-42%.
Additionally, in 25 of the 26 states with Republican primary or caucus entrance/exit polls, immigration ranked last in the “what is your most important issue priority” test among the four issues tested with Republican primary voters (behind jobs/economy; government spending; and terrorism). Democratic primary exit polls did not test immigration. Below is overview in key states where exit polls were conducted.
- In Indiana, 2016 GOP primary voters supported legalization over deportation by a 52%-45% margin and ranked immigration last in priority out of four issues tested (11% of Indiana GOP primary voters said immigration was top issue, compared to 40% who said economy/jobs; 28% who said govt. spending; and 18% who said terrorism.)
- In Missouri, 2016 GOP primary voters supported legalization over deportation by a 53-42% margin and ranked immigration last in priority out of four issues tested (11% of Missouri GOP primary voters said immigration was top issue, compared to economy/jobs (34%), government spending (32%), and terrorism (21%).
- In Ohio, 2016 GOP primary voters supported legalization over deportation by a 57%-39% margin and ranked immigration last in priority out of four issues tested (7% of Ohio GOP primary voters said immigration was top issue, compared to economy/jobs (39%), government spending (29%), and terrorism (22%).
- In Pennsylvania, 2016 GOP primary voters supported legalization over deportation by a 51%-45% margin and ranked immigration last in priority out of four issues tested (10% of Pennsylvania GOP primary voters said immigration was top issue, compared to economy/jobs (39%), government spending (24%), and terrorism (24%).
Border Wall Increasingly Unpopular Nationally
Quinnipiac University: Five polls conducted by Quinnipiac since the 2016 elections 2017 find growing opposition to building a wall – In November, 55 percent were opposed, while 42 percent were in support. By March and April 2017, 64 percent said they were opposed, while 33 percent said they were in favor.
CNN immigration polling has found that the border wall was growing more unpopular. By a 60-38% margin, Americans oppose building a wall along the entire Mexican border and support for building the wall is cratering as well, dropping from 52% support in September 2015 to 47% support in September 2016 to the current 38% margin in CNN immigration polling.
A February Pew Research poll found that Americans oppose the border wall by a 62%-35% margin and 70% think the U.S. would have to pay for the wall, while just 16% of Americans think Mexico would pay for it.
Washington Post-ABC News poll: Sixty percent of adults oppose building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, while 37 percent support it. Of these respondents, 47 percent are strongly against it.
A January CBS News poll found that Americans oppose the border wall by a 59-37% margin and, despite President Trump’s boasts, 79% of respondents think that American taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the wall, while only 14% thought Mexico would pay, as President Trump claims.
Americans Support Legalization over Border Enforcement When Pit Against Each Other
The American public supports (a) legalization/citizenship over border measures, when pit against each other and (b) Americans reject false “either/or” choice and overwhelmingly support an approach that addresses both status of undocumented immigrants and also overhauls immigration system, including enforcement measures. For example:
CNN Immigration Polling (March 2017): Americans increasingly think immigration policy priority should be legalization – not deportation or border security. When asked what top priority should be for U.S. immigration policy, 60% of respondents back legalization, 26% support a plan “to stop immigrants from entering the U.S. illegally,” and 13% support deporting immigrants here. Of note, the support for the legalization option grew from 51% in September 2016 to the current 60%.
Additionally, the March CNN poll showed that, by a 58%-40% margin, Americans are more worried that deportations will go too far rather than not far enough. The public is more concerned that “people who haven’t committed serious crimes” will be deported than efforts won’t go far enough and dangerous criminals will remain.
Pew Research (Aug 2016): “Overall, 29% of the public prioritizes “creating a way for immigrants already here illegally to become citizens if they meet certain requirements,” while (24%) say the focus should be on “better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws.” However, when given the option, a 45% plurality does say that both should be given equal priority.” (Pew link has a bunch more relevant stuff…including fact that when 45% who say “both” are prompted to choose either/or, they side with citizenship over enforcement by 55%–41%).