New survey finds marked increase in Obama’s job approval among Hispanics
WASHINGTON — Approximately 7-in-10 Americans support the goals of President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration, but are sharply divided about the means he used to achieve them, according to a new national survey. The PRRI Religion & Politics Tracking Survey finds that 72 percent of Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants who are parents of children with legal status to stay in the United States for three years without being subject to deportation if they pass a background check and have lived in the country at least five years; 27 percent of Americans oppose this policy. However, far fewer Americans (50 percent) say President Obama should have taken executive action given that Congress has not addressed the immigration issue, while nearly as many (45 percent) say he should not have taken executive action.
The survey of 1,011 American adults, conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute in the week following the president’s executive action on immigration, explores opinions and concerns about the immigration system and immigration policy.
“The American public draws a strong distinction between the policy goals, where there is broad support, and the means of executive action,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “While there is broad bipartisan and cross-religious support for temporary deportation relief for qualified unauthorized immigrants who are parents of children with legal status, the public is divided along party lines concerning the use of executive action to achieve these ends.”
There is broad support for the goals of the executive action on immigration, although the strength of support varies across groups. More than 8-in-10 (82 percent) Democrats, 70 percent of independents, and more than 6-in-10 (62 percent) Republicans favor allowing illegal immigrants who are parents of children with legal status to stay in the United States for three years without being subject to deportation if they pass a background check and have lived in the country at least five years. Among religious groups, two-thirds or more of white mainline Protestants (66 percent), minority Protestants (76 percent), Catholics (73 percent), and the religiously unaffiliated (80 percent) support this policy, as do 6-in-10 (60 percent) white evangelical Protestants.
There are substantial divisions about whether President Obama was right to take executive action on immigration. The president’s executive action had support from more than 7-in-10 black and Hispanic Americans (79 percent and 75 percent, respectively). Among white Americans, 41 percent say he should have taken executive action, and a majority (55 percent) say he should not have acted. There are also important religious divisions. Majorities of minority Protestants (61 percent), Catholics (59 percent), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (55 percent) say Obama should have used executive action. However, white mainline Protestants are about evenly divided (46 percent support, 50 percent oppose) as are white Catholics (47 percent support, 49 percent oppose). By contrast, two-thirds (67 percent) of white evangelical Protestants oppose Obama’s use of executive action, compared to 27 percent who support it.
Additionally, there is striking partisan polarization on this question. Three-quarters (74 percent) of Republicans say the president should not have taken executive action, while nearly identical numbers of Democrats (76 percent) say he should have taken executive action; independents are evenly divided (48 percent support, 48 percent oppose).
The survey also finds President Obama’s job approval rating has risen markedly among Hispanics following his executive action on immigration. Currently, more than 6-in-10 (62 percent) Hispanics say they approve of the job President Obama is doing, a significant increase from October 2014 when fewer than half (46 percent) of Hispanics expressed approval.
“With the announcement of executive action, Obama’s support among the Hispanic community has rebounded dramatically reversing a substantial decline over the past couple of years,” said Daniel Cox, director of research at Public Religion Research Institute. “At the same time, the Democratic Party’s edge over the GOP to handle the issue of immigration has slipped somewhat among the public.”
The survey reveals that the Democratic advantage on the immigration issue has narrowed somewhat over the past year. Roughly 4-in-10 (39 percent) Americans say they trust the Democratic Party more to handle the immigration issue, while 34 percent say they trust the Republican Party more to handle it. However, it is notable that approximately one-quarter of Americans say they trust neither party (21 percent) or don’t know (5 percent). In 2013, an identical number (39 percent) of Americans reported trusting the Democrats over the GOP to handle the issue, but fewer said they trusted the Republican Party (29 percent). At that time, about 3-in-10 Americans said they trusted neither party (23 percent) or did not know (8 percent). Among Hispanic Americans, a majority (53 percent) say they most trust the Democratic Party compared to 21 percent who say they most trust the Republican Party, but about one-quarter say they trust neither party (15 percent) or don’t know (9 percent).
Compared to 2010, Americans today are more likely to believe the immigration system is broken. More than 7-in-10 Americans say the immigration system is either broken but working in some areas (38 percent) or completely broken (33 percent). In 2010, a smaller majority of the public said the system was broken but working in a few areas (35 percent) or completely broken (21 percent).
Support for long-term fixes to the immigration system, including a path to citizenship and the DREAM Act, remain steady. Nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent) Americans say that immigrants living in the country illegally should be allowed to become citizens, provided they meet certain requirements. In 2013, 63 percent supported the policy. More than 6-in-10 (64 percent) Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or attend college. In 2011, 57 percent supported the policy.
The PRRI Religion & Politics Tracking Survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on 1,011 bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews (507 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone) conducted by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS among a random sample of American adults between November 25, 2014, and November 30, 2014. (No interviews were conducted on November 27 due to the Thanksgiving holiday.) The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 3.6 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The survey was funded by generous grants from The Ford Foundation and The Hagedorn Foundation.
Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.