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Massive New PRRI Polling Project on Immigration Finds Durable and Broad Support for Pro-Immigrant Policies

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Despite Anti-Immigrant Fixation of GOP Presidential Race, Americans Overwhelmingly Remain in Favor of Pro-Immigrant Reforms

Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) today released the 2015 American Values Atlas, a comprehensive examination of Americans’ attitudes on a range of immigration topics. Conducted from April 2015 through January 2016 and comprised of a massive sample size of 42,000 interviews, the new PRRI polling allows for a detailed analysis of how the general public, as well as specific states and populations, feels about immigrants and immigration policy.

The poll finds durable and broad support throughout the electorate and throughout the country for pro-immigrant policies – at direct odds with the harsh, anti-immigrant tone and tenor of the Republican presidential campaign. As PRRI CEO Dr. Robert P. Jones said in a press statement, “While the campaigns of the leading Republican presidential candidates have been fueled by antipathy toward immigrants, these views are not reflective of the general public’s mindset and may not resonate among younger Republicans and white evangelical Protestants. While these younger voters are less of a factor in the primary season, Republican candidates will need their support in the general election.”

Among the key findings in the new PRRI polling:

Durable and Overwhelming Preference for Undocumented Immigrants to “Be Allowed to Stay Here” Rather than “Required to Leave”: A combined 77% of respondents (nearly four-of-five Americans) support policies that would allow undocumented immigrants to stay here while only one-of-five support policies that would require them to leave, as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz propose. Specifically, when asked a three-part question on preferred policies for undocumented immigrants, 62% of respondents believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements; 15% say they should be allowed to become permanent legal residents, but not citizens; and 19% say they should be identified and deported. As PRRI notes, “[a]ttitudes on this question have remained remarkably stable throughout 2015.” Additionally, the PRRI data are very similar to findings and margins from Gallup polling and Pew Research polling.

Two-of-Three Republicans Back “Stay Here” Policies – Support is Especially Strong Among Younger Republicans: In a finding that may surprise those who believe Trump is speaking for a majority of Republicans when he promises to round up 11 million undocumented immigrants and force them to leave, two-of-three Republicans support a way for undocumented immigrants to “stay here” rather than “leave.” Specifically, 52% of Republican respondents back the citizenship option and 14% support legalization with no citizenship (a combined 66% of GOP respondents); 30% of Republicans back deportation. As PRRI’s poll summary notes, “Republican attitudes on immigration reform policy also vary significantly by age. More than six in ten (63%) young Republicans (age 18 to 29) support providing immigrants currently living in the country illegally with a path to citizenship, while just one in five (20%) prefer identifying and deporting these immigrants. Older Republicans, in contrast, express much lower support for a path to citizenship. Fewer than half (47%) of G.O.P. seniors (age 65 and older) favor allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, while more than one-third (34%) support deportation.”  Of note, the PRRI findings among Republicans echo the results of exit polling from 2016 Republican primary states – in 14/16 states, Republican primary voters have supported offering undocumented immigrants “a chance to apply for legal status” instead of deportation.

Nearly Nine-of-Ten Democrats Support “Stay Here” Policies: A combined 86% of Democrats in the PRRI study supported either the citizenship option (72%) or the legalization option (14%), while only 11% backed deportation.

In 49/50 States, Majority Support for Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants: In every state except South Dakota, a majority of respondents supported the citizenship option. Even in South Dakota, a plurality (46%) backed citizenship and an additional 16% backed legalization short of citizenship, meaning that 62% of SD respondents supported “stay here” policies.

Americans View Immigrants as a Strength, Rather than a Threat, to American Society: By a 50%-34% margin, respondents in the PRRI poll said that newcomers from other countries strengthen American society rather than represent a threat to American customs and values. As PRRI’s poll summary notes, “There are striking generational differences in attitudes about immigrants. More than two-thirds (68%) of young adults (age 18 to 29) say that immigrants coming to the U.S. strengthen the country, while fewer than one in five (19%) say that immigrants threaten traditional American customs and values. In contrast, only 36% of seniors (age 65 and older) believe that newcomers strengthen American society, while close to half (44%) of seniors believe that immigrants coming to the U.S. are a threat.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Based on a whopping 42,000 interviews, the findings show that, by a 4 – 1 margin, Americans favor policies that grant undocumented immigrants the chance to remain in the U.S. rather than face deportation, and that even 2/3 of Republican voters agree. At a time with Donald Trump promises a ‘deportation force’ to round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants –and their 5 million U.S. citizen children—within 18-24 months, and Ted Cruz promises no legalization, ever, these results are remarkable. They strongly suggest that Trump and Cruz are activating and pandering to hardliners in the party, but not expanding their number. The fact that the GOP frontrunners are falling all over themselves to speak to a minority within a minority says much more about the sorry state of Republican presidential prospects this year than it says about strong state of support from across most of the political spectrum for immigration reforms.”

PRRI’s American Values Atlas on immigrationhttp://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/PRRI-AVA-2015-Immigration-Report.pdf

Access state-specific data from PRRIhttp://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/PRRI-AVA-map-immigration-reform-by-state.jpg and http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/PRRI-AVA-table-immigration-reform-by-state.jpg