New Poll, Focus Groups: Strong Support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in Ohio, Arkansas Across Religious Lines
New polling finds increase in optimism following health care reform passage
Full Reports available here.
A national re-contact survey and three state-level reports released today show strong support for immigration reform among residents of Ohio and Arkansas. “Like Americans overall, Ohio and Arkansas residents support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform by approximately a 2-to-1 margin,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the studies. Jones also noted that this strong support persists despite higher anxiety among Ohioans and Arkansans about economic vulnerability and competition with illegal immigrants for jobs. These state-level findings are generally consistent with findings from Public Religion Research Institute’s national survey on religion, values, and immigration reform, which was released in March. The national re-contact survey following up on the survey released last month found a significant increase in satisfaction with the direction of the country at the national and state levels, compared to attitudes prior to the passage of health care reform.
In addition to the state-level poll reports, an analysis of four focus groups among politically moderate white Protestant and Catholic voters in Columbus, Ohio, showed significant differences among Catholic and Protestant participants – with Catholics more strongly connecting to their families’ own immigration experience and holding more sympathetic views toward the challenges facing immigrants today.
PRRI conducted a short re-contact survey March 31-April 5, 2010, with participants of the original national and state surveys on attitudes toward immigrants and immigration reform that were fielded March 5-11, 2010. The purpose of the re-contact survey was to assess whether the passage of comprehensive health care reform on March 21, 2010 had influenced public attitudes about the direction of the country and support for Congress tackling immigration reform this year.
- We found a significant increase in satisfaction with the direction of the country, compared to attitudes prior to the passage of health care reform. While nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans remain dissatisfied with the direction of the country, we found a significant 9-point increase (from 20% to 29%) in the number of Americans who said they were satisfied with the direction of the country.
- Consistent with previous findings, the public remains evenly divided about whether Congress should tackle immigration reform this year.
State Poll Results
Residents of Ohio and Arkansas are more likely than Americans nationwide to report being in fair or poor shape economically and to have a negative view of the contributions of immigrants. Ohio and Arkansas residents are also more likely than the general public to believe illegal immigrants take jobs that American workers want – a view held by 58% of Arkansas residents and 56% of Ohioans, but only 48% of Americans generally.
In spite of these more negative attitudes, residents of Ohio and Arkansas, like Americans generally, agree on the importance of a set of values—including protecting human dignity and keeping families together—that should guide reform, and residents of both states overwhelmingly support an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants:
- Overwhelming majorities of Ohio and Arkansas residents say enforcing the rule of law and protecting national security (87% and 88% respectively), ensuring fairness to taxpayers (80% and 89%), keeping families together (79% and 80%), and protecting the dignity of every person (78% and 81%) are very or extremely important values that should guide immigration reform.
- Nearly 9-in-10 Arkansas and Ohio residents, like Americans overall, support an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants (85% Ohio, 87% Arkansas, and 86% America), which is one of the key provisions of comprehensive immigration reform.
- Like Americans generally, Ohio residents favor comprehensive immigration reform over more limited enforcement-oriented alternatives by approximately 2-to-1, and Arkansas residents favor comprehensive reform by nearly the same margin. When asked to choose between a description of comprehensive reform and an argument that illegal immigrants should not be rewarded with amnesty or taxpayer-funded social services, 66% of Ohioans choose comprehensive reform with an earned path to citizenship, compared to 25% who embrace the opposing position. Fifty-seven percent of Arkansans choose comprehensive reform with an earned path to citizenship, compared to 30% who embrace the opposing position.
The Ohio and Arkansas survey reports also examine differences in attitudes toward immigration and approaches to immigration reform across lines of religion, gender, income, and educational attainment.
Catholic-Protestant Focus Groups: Ellis Island vs. Home Depot
The Ohio focus groups among white moderate voters demonstrated significant differences in attitudes toward immigration between Catholics, whose initial impressions were mostly positive and grounded in their own families’ immigration stories, and Protestants, whose initial impressions of immigrants were more likely to be negative and associated with images like day laborers looking for work at a Home Depot parking lot. Other findings from the focus group report:
- Lack of knowledge and the power of stories. Participants across all groups were quick to say that they believed the current immigration system was broken, but they had little concrete knowledge of how it was broken. When participants heard stories about hardships of becoming a citizen, ideas shifted in a more supportive direction.
- Openness to clergy leadership in the appropriate setting. Nearly all participants were wary of hearing about a political issue such as immigration reform from the pulpit, but they were open to clergy leadership in discussion or informational settings. Very few had heard anything about immigration reform at church, and nearly all were unaware of any official position of their denomination on the issue.
- Concerns about commitment of contemporary immigrants to the U.S. Moderate religious voters are not fully convinced that, given the opportunity, illegal immigrants would fully invest in a path to citizenship and “put out their whole being” into being here. These participants see the willingness to learn English both as an important policy point and as a proxy of immigrants’ commitment to investing in the U.S.
About the Survey and Focus Groups
PRRI’s nationwide telephone survey of 1,201 Americans (1,047 voters), along with two state surveys of Ohio (n=402) and Arkansas (n=402) residents, was conducted March 5–11, 2010. PRRI also conducted a brief re-contact survey March 31-April 5, 2010, with participants of the original national and state surveys. The focus group report analyzes four focus groups held in the greater Columbus, Ohio, area on January 28, 2010, among politically moderate white Christian voters who attend religious services at least once or twice per month. Two groups were comprised of self-identified Protestants, and two groups were comprised of self-identified Catholics. The study was sponsored by the Ford Foundation.