Republicans and Independents who most trust Fox News significantly less likely than other Americans to support a path to citizenship
WASHINGTON – With immigration reform legislation stalled in Congress and the 2014 midterm elections rapidly approaching, more than six-in-ten Americans continue to support a path to citizenship, a new survey finds. When asked how the immigration system should deal with immigrants currently living in the country illegally, 62 percent of Americans favor allowing them a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, 17 percent favor allowing them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, and 19 percent favor identifying and deporting them. Support for a path to citizenship is nearly identical to one year ago (March 2013) when 63 percent of Americans supported this policy.
The new survey, conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with The Brookings Institution, and its accompanying report, What Americans Want from Immigration Reform in 2014, offer a rare window into how individual Americans’ views on immigration have changed over time because results are based on a call-back survey of the same individuals who participated in the March 2013 PRRI/Brookings Religion, Values and Immigration Survey, one of the largest surveys ever conducted on the issue.
“Even amidst inaction by Congress, support for a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally remains remarkably broad,” said Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “In today’s polarized politics, there are few major issues that attract this kind of bipartisan and cross-religious agreement.”
Consistent with findings from March 2013, support for a path to citizenship crosses party lines, although there are significant differences in intensity. Majorities of self-identified Democrats (70 percent), independents (61 percent), and Republicans (51 percent) continue to favor a path to citizenship. Notably, Republicans are roughly three times more likely than Democrats to favor identifying and deporting all immigrants living in the U.S. illegally (30 percent vs. 11 percent).
Majorities of nearly all religious groups support a path to citizenship, including white mainline Protestants (58 percent), minority Protestants (62 percent), Catholics (63 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (68 percent). Among white evangelical Protestants, nearly half (48 percent) favor a path to citizenship, an eight-point drop from 56 percent support in March 2013.
“Where Americans get their news matters, and Fox News appears to play a powerful role in shaping the views of both Republicans and independents on immigration reform,” said E. J. Dionne, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Republicans and independents who most trust Fox news are nearly 20 percentage points less likely to support a path to citizenship than those who turn to other television sources.”
Trust in Fox News as an accurate news source is the most powerful independent predictor of opposition to a path to citizenship. For example, 42 percent of Republicans who most trust Fox News support a path to citizenship, compared to 60 percent of Republicans who most trust other television news sources. Among independents who most trust Fox, 48 percent support a path to citizenship, compared to 66 percent of independents who most trust other media outlets.
“One notable shift over the past year is that Americans’ attitudes toward immigrants have become more positive,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s Research Director. “Today, Americans are less likely to believe immigrants in the country illegally are hurting the economy and are more likely to say that newcomers strengthen American society.”
Currently, Americans are equally as likely to believe that illegal immigration helps the economy by providing low-cost labor (45 percent) as they are to say that it hurts the economy by driving down wages (46 percent). In March 2013, a majority (56 percent) of Americans said that illegal immigrants negatively impact the economy by driving down wages. Today, nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent) Americans say that the growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society, compared to 37 percent who say they threaten traditional American customs and values. Last year, 54 percent said newcomers strengthen American society.
Looking ahead to the political implications of immigration reform, the survey finds two things to be true at the same time. On the one hand, opposing immigration reform appears to be more of a political liability than an asset for candidates, with 53 percent of all registered voters saying they would be less willing to vote for a candidate who opposes immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, 16 percent saying they would be more likely to support a candidate with that position, and 30 percent saying it would make no difference to their vote. On the other hand, immigration reform ranks low on Americans’ list of priorities, with only 26 percent of the general population saying it should be the highest priority for President Obama and Congress.
“The survey also reveals a considerable enthusiasm gap that favors Republicans in the midterm elections,” noted William Galston, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. “The challenge for Democrats appears the greatest for two groups—Hispanics and young adults—who made vital contributions to Obama’s winning coalitions in both 2008 and 2012.”
Only 30 percent of Hispanics say that they are certain to vote in 2014 compared to 51 percent of the public. This disengagement may be influenced by a sharp decline in Hispanics’ approval of the president’s job performance over the last year, from 72 percent in March 2013 to 51 percent today. Similarly, only 24 percent of young adults (ages 18-29) say they are certain to vote in 2014.
Among the findings:
Americans continue to favor allowing immigrants living in the country illegally who were brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college, a policy which comprises the basic elements of the DREAM Act.
- More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans favor this policy, while three-in-ten (30 percent) are opposed.
- Eight-in-ten (80 percent) Democrats and more than two-thirds (68 percent) of independents favor the basic tenets of the DREAM Act, as do a slim majority (52 percent) of Republicans.
Compared to one year ago, Americans’ political priorities are largely unchanged.
- Today, one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans say that reforming the nation’s immigration system should be the highest priority for the president and Congress, while 47 percent of Americans report that reforming the immigration system should be a high priority but not the highest, and one-quarter (25 percent) think that immigration reform should be given a lower priority.
- Democrats (28 percent) and Republicans (28 percent) are equally likely to say that reforming the nation’s immigration system should be the highest priority, while one-quarter (25 percent) of independents rank immigration reform as the highest priority.
Most Americans believe the immigration system in the United States is broken.
- Less than 1-in-10 (6 percent) Americans believe that the immigration system is generally working, while 31 percent say it is working but with some major problems.
- Nearly four-in-ten (38 percent) Americans report that the current immigration system is broken but working in some areas, while 23 percent say it is completely broken. These views remain essentially unchanged over the last year.
Seven-in-ten (70 percent) Americans now say that immigrants coming to the country today mostly take jobs Americans do not want, while only 22 percent say they take jobs away from American citizens. Last year, Americans were somewhat less likely to say immigrants are taking unwanted jobs (64 percent).
Although deportations of immigrants who are in the country illegally have increased since the beginning of the Obama administration, only one-quarter (25 percent) of Americans correctly state that deportations have increased over the past five or six years. Close to half (45 percent) of Americans believe that the number of deportations has stayed the same, while nearly 1-in-5 (18 percent) say deportations have decreased. Public knowledge about the level of deportations has remained unchanged since last year.
- Democrats (30 percent) and independents (27 percent) are more likely than Republicans (18 percent) to report correctly that the number of deportations has increased over the past five or six years.
- Only 12 percent of Americans who most trust Fox News for accurate information about politics and current events correctly believe deportations have increased.
Consistent with findings one year ago, more Americans say they trust the Democratic Party over the Republican Party to handle the issue of immigration. Close to half (46 percent) of Americans say they most trust the Democratic Party to handle the issue, while 33 percent say they most trust the GOP. Fourteen percent say they do not trust either party to handle the issue of immigration.
Nearly 4-in-10 (37 percent) registered voters believe the Republican Party’s position on immigration reform will hurt the GOP in the 2014 elections, compared to only 11 percent who say it will help the party. A plurality (44 percent) of voters believe the GOP’s current position on immigration will not have any discernible effect on the party’s fortunes in 2014.
Among Republican registered voters, nearly half (46 percent) say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, while 21 percent say they would be more likely to support such a candidate, and 30 percent said it would make no difference.
At this point in the 2014 election season, Americans are relatively disengaged.
- Only 16 percent say they are following news about the 2014 congressional campaigns in their district or state very closely.
- Only about half (51 percent) of the public say they are absolutely sure of voting in the 2014 congressional election. Roughly 1-in-5 (21 percent) say they will probably vote, while one-quarter (25 percent) say their chances of voting are 50-50 or less.
The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Brookings Institution. The survey was made possible by the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews conducted between April 7, 2014 and April 27, 2014, by professional interviewers under the supervision of Princeton Survey Research Associates. Interviews were conducted by telephone among a random sample of 1,538 adults 18 years of age or older who were originally part of the 2013 Religion, Values & Immigration Reform Survey (601 respondents in the call back survey were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error is +/- 3.3 percentage points for the general sample at the 95% confidence level.