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Memo: Making Sense of Latest Immigration Polling and Public Opinion

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First published February 28, 2024; last updated April 11, 2024

Topline Summary

While the salience of immigration has increased, and Americans are concerned about maintaining an orderly border, the majority of the public is open to a “both/and” approach. They support a broader set of immigration solutions that pair border security and an orderly asylum process with continued support for legal immigration, citizenship for Dreamers and other long-settled undocumented immigrants, and recognition that a functional immigration system and immigrants strengthen our country. 

In the political context, regardless of its electoral efficacy, the GOP base demands the Republicans continue their nativist attacks. So, Democrats must continue to lean in and address the issue rather than ceding the debate and framing to Republicans. Democrats should both call out Republican extremism and preference for politics instead of solutions and broaden the conversation away from just the border to a broader set of solutions and vision for a functional and fair immigration system.  

Driven by Republicans, Immigration Salience is Rising, Focused on the Border 

Many recent polls highlight that immigration and border issues are top-of-mind concerns for the American public, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the volume of recent news and attention on the topic. For example:

  • Gallup (Feb. 2024): Gallup’s February monthly tracking poll found that a plurality of 28% of Americans thought “immigration” was the “most important problem facing the country today.” It’s the first time in four years that immigration was the top-ranked issue and the subset of Republican respondents in particular drove the ranking, with 57% of Republican respondents in February choosing “immigration” vs. 37% in January. 
  • Pew Research (Feb. 2024): 78% of Americans said the “large number of migrants seeking to enter this country at the U.S.-Mexico border” was either a “crisis” (45%) or “a major problem” (32%).

Those who feel most strongly about immigration are opponents of immigration, most notably the Republican base. Given the rising salience of the issue, the American public wants action instead of the broken status quo when it comes to the border and immigration. The public also has concerns about border security and how to integrate new migrants and asylum seekers into states and cities across the nation in an orderly and lawful manner. 

In the absence of legislative progress -where bipartisan efforts at reform are continually blocked by Republican leaders repeating a decades-long pattern – and in the current moment, the public is expressing rising support for blunt deterrence policies that are symbolic of taking action – such as the border wall (a wasteful and ineffective policy idea for reasons detailed here).

Yet, crucially, the public maintains strong support for a broader set of balanced solutions – a “both/and” approach that includes support for policies that ensure an orderly and secure border alongside policies that include continued support for legal immigration, citizenship for the undocumented, and recognition that immigrants and immigration strengthen America. 

Despite Border Concerns, the Majority of the Public Maintains Strong Support for Balanced Solutions 

Underscoring the above point are findings from the two polling entities cited above:

Other polls similarly find that, yes, a majority of the public has concern over the border, but still supports a broader array of policies that include legalization while recognizing immigration overall as a good thing. In fact, a majority prefers a balanced, “both/and” approach to solely a border and enforcement approach: 

  • DCCC-commissioned polling in 60+ battleground House districts (April 2024), shared by Beltway outlet Punchbowl News, found “When voters were asked whether they preferred a Democratic candidate who backs stricter immigration enforcement and immigration reform over a Republican who wants to build a border wall and aggressively deport undocumented migrants, the Democrat won out 51%-44% among all voters. The specific issue positions listed for the Democrat in that scenario were support for increasing border enforcement funding, comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for Dreamers and high-skill immigrants who pass background checks and pay taxes. These findings align with the winning immigration strategy of Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) in a February special election on Long Island. Suozzi spoke up during the presentation. ‘The best, most effective politicians are the ones who say what people are already thinking,’ Suozzi told us after. ‘And the people are thinking about the border and immigration, so we have to talk about that regularly.’”
  • A March 2024 Wall Street Journal poll. The accompanying article notes, “Americans support both tougher border security and a pathway to citizenship for longtime immigrants living in the country illegally, a new Wall Street Journal poll finds—suggesting that voters crave a blueprint for compromise that Congress has all but abandoned … In the new Journal survey, 59% of voters said they would support the bipartisan package, with roughly equal percentages of Republicans and Democrats in favor. An even larger share, some 74%, support creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for many years and pass a background check. That makes a path to citizenship the single most popular of eight immigration policies the Journal asked about. Similarly, 66% of voters would support creating a mechanism for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, often called Dreamers, to gain citizenship. And 58% back increasing the level of legal immigration to the U.S.”
  • A March 2024 Global Strategy Group battleground poll of 1,200 voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin released by the Immigration Hub found “strong support for delivering both border security solutions and legal pathways for immigrants currently in the U.S.,” with 81% of voters supporting a pathway to citizenship for “undocumented immigrants who have been living in the U.S. for many years, pass a background check, and pay taxes,” and more than 70% support for “investing in border security measures such as increased screening capacity, improving technology and infrastructure at the border, and increasing the number of border officials.” Battleground voters in the poll also opposed family separation (65%) and banning asylum (55%). 
  • An earlier Global Strategy Group poll found “68% of all voters, including 74% of swing voters, want “a balanced approach that includes both border security and protects Dreamers, providing them and other eligible immigrants with a pathway to citizenship.” By contrast, only 32% of all voters, and only 26% of swing voters, wanted “an enforcement-only approach that exclusively focuses on border security and limiting the use of asylum.” See more from a recent memo from The Immigration Hub highlighting that the “majority of voters in America are pro-immigrant and pro-orderliness.” 
  • A late February 2024 poll conducted by the Bullfinch Group for the National Immigration Forum found that 55% of voters “prefer Republicans and Democrats work together and compromise with each other to reform immigration” versus 26% preferring Republicans to “stand their ground rather than compromise” and 19% preferring Democrats “stand their ground rather than compromise.”
  • A late February poll from Third Way found that 72% of Independents, 81% of Democrats, and 76% of Latinos support the notion of fixing the system while protecting migrants. In the context of the recent Senate bill killed by Republicans, Third Way research found strong support for a deal that “…will provide humanitarian aid to asylum seekers, ensure cases are processed more quickly, and create legal pathways so migrants can work and support their families.” 
  • Meanwhile, support for citizenship and legal status for Dreamers and long-settled immigrants remains strong (see poll roundups here and here).
  • And the public recognizes immigration and immigrants as a net positive for America – for example, by a 58-27% margin in a recent Quinnipiac Poll,  the public thinks “immigrants from other cultures have a mainly positive impact on American society” instead of negative. 

It’s only among the Republican voting base where these sentiments are outliers. For example, in the Quinnipiac question on whether immigrants had a positive impact, Democrats said 81-11% “positive” and Independents said 67-21% “positive” while Republican respondents were the outliers, expressing “negative” by a 50-29% margin.

The Political Context and the Way Forward

Putting all of this into the political context and in a general election cycle where the issue is likely to be a major focus, America’s Voice has outlined the below guidance for Democrats to address immigration. After the Trump-led refusal to let Congressional Republicans accept a bipartisan border deal tilted heavily in the direction of their stated policy priorities, and after the Rep. Tom Suozzi win in the New York-03 Special Election when he confronted all aspects of immigration head-on, there is now an enormous opportunity for Biden and Democrats to reset the conversation:

  1. Lean in, take control and don’t duck the immigration issue.
  2. Call out GOP extremism and preference for maintaining immigration and the border as a perpetual political issue rather than addressing the issue with serious solutions.
  3. Outline a “both/and” vision on immigration that addresses public concern over an orderly border and embraces a broader set of popular solutions on topics such as legal immigration and support for long-settled immigrants. 

Read more in the March 2024 America’s Voice political memo, “The Changed Politics of Immigration and the Way Forward”

Looking at the polling details described earlier in this memo, Democrats and Independents are broadly supportive of a balanced, “both/and” approach and are skeptical or outright opposed to Trump’s and the Republicans’ extremism and sole focus on enforcement and draconian policy such as mass-roundups (see more here). 

Meanwhile, other polls highlight the broad majority opposition for Republicans’ gamesmanship and opposition to bipartisan efforts to address immigration and the border in a balanced manner:

  • A late February 2024 Global Strategy Group poll for Navigator Research found that 63% of registered voters found it “concerning” (including 41% who said “very concerning”) that “Republicans in Congress” “continue to distract with their political games and refusal to work with Democrats, instead of finding solutions to the priorities that matter most to Americans, like inflation and immigration.” A similar 60% of voters found it “concerning” (40% “very concerning,”) that Republicans “would rather play politics and try to score points on immigration, while they oppose plans to fix our broken immigration system that would reestablish order at the border and create a path to citizenship for those who work, pay taxes, or serve in our military.”

As political columnist Ron Brownstein recently phrased it, taking stock of the array of polls and immigration political and policy developments: 

“[W]hen it comes to the long-term impact of immigrants on American society, the broader public’s view is not nearly as negative as the assessment among Republicans. In the PRRI polling, for instance, only about 2-in-5 independents and just 1-in-5 Democrats agreed that the growing number of immigrants threatens traditional American customs and values. Over three-fifths of independents and more than three-fourths of Democrats in the CBS poll rejected Trump’s assertion that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of America. Over the years, most Americans have consistently supported a path to citizenship for long-time undocumented immigrants who have not broken the law.

Those attitudes raise questions about whether Trump, if he wins the nomination, can sustain public support for the militant immigration ideas that are now helping him consolidate his lead in the primaries.”