Innovative survey experiment reveals that majorities of Republicans and evangelicals support a path to citizenship if requirements included
WASHINGTON – Majorities of Republicans and white evangelical Protestants support a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States illegally when the policy specifies that immigrants must meet certain requirements, such as those contained in legislation expected to be released by the Senate’s Gang of Eight this week.
Republican support for a path to citizenship jumps 15 points—from 39 percent to 54 percent–if requirements are included, according to a new survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Brookings Institution. Support among Republicans increases an additional 8 points to 62 percent when specific requirements are included such as paying back taxes, learning English and passing a background check. Among white evangelical Protestants, a key GOP constituency that has been increasingly vocal on this issue, support also increases by 15 points—from 45 percent to 60 percent—if requirements are included, while 55 percent in support of the policy with specific requirements included.
“The inclusion of basic requirements that immigrants must meet is the key to bipartisan, cross-religious support for a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “These findings indicate that the forthcoming bipartisan Senate bill, which contains requirements such as these, should find broad support from rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats and across the religious landscape.”
The increase in Republican support mirrors patterns in the general public. While about six-in-ten Americans (59 percent) support a path to citizenship generally, support increases to 68 percent when the provision to meet certain requirements is included, and to 71 percent when specific requirements are included.
The new survey utilized a controlled experiment to clarify the impact of wording differences in recent public polling on immigration reform. The survey experiment randomly divided the entire sample of 2,018 respondents into three demographically identical subgroups. Interviewers then asked each group a slightly different question: one about support for a path to citizenship with no reference to requirements, one with a general reference to “certain requirements,” and another with a specific reference to “requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check.”
“This innovative survey design settles the confusion that conflicting polls have produced over support for a path to citizenship,” said William Galston, Brookings senior fellow. “It’s now clear that Republicans and conservative groups such as evangelicals are willing to support a path to citizenship, so long as their concerns about immigrants meeting certain requirements have been addressed.”
This survey updates last month’s PRRI/Brookings Religion, Values and Immigration survey, which is one of the largest public opinion surveys on immigration, with nearly 4,500 respondents.
The April PRRI/Brookings Religion and Politics Tracking Survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews conducted between April 5, 2013 and April 14, 2013 by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 2,018 adults 18 years of age or older in the entire United States (784 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.3 percentage points, and the margin of error for each of the subgroup forms is +/-3.9 percentage points.
Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values and public life.