Only Democrats support Obama's executive order on immigration

December 02, 2014, 2:20 PM GMT+0

Americans generally support reforms to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country, but they tend to oppose President Obama's executive order protecting millions from deportation

Many Americans are still sympathetic to the needs of immigrants, but they reject executive action, even though they know the likelihood of Congressional action on immigration is minimal.

However, the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, conducted In the wake of the President’s address asserting executive authority to delay deportation proceedings for some illegal immigrants, some Americans may be stepping away from any support for legalizing those now here illegally.

Less than half say they favor doing what the President says he will do: stop deportations and give temporary work authorizations to the parents of U.S. citizens, provided they meet requirements like passing a background check and pay taxes. Democrats and independents are in favor; Republicans are not.

The changes post-speech can be seen in how the public responds to a more general question about something that goes beyond the President’s proposal: a pathway to citizenship. Only 47% now favor providing those here illegally having a path towards citizenship, with background checks, fines and jobs. In February, more than half favored some sort of partway to citizenship, with no rules specified.

The biggest change from February took place among Republicans. Then, 40% of Republicans supported a path to citizenship. Now, only 21% do. There has been almost no change among either Democrats or Independents.

The same sort of partisan pattern (Democrats and independents change little; Republicans move form support to overwhelming opposition) has occurred when Americans are asked about the “dreamers.” In February, after the President announced that he would delay deportations for those brought to the U.S. as children, about two-thirds of the public supported doing that. But now, just 50% favor delayed deportation for those in college or the military, and nearly all the difference in the slightly different question asked this week is accounted for by a change among Republicans.

Two-thirds of Democrats and majorites of independents now and then support those deportation delays, while GOP support has dropped from 53% to 23%.

There is much support overall for punitive action against illegal immigrants: nearly two in three favor reporting employers who hire illegal immigrants, increasing fines for those employers and criminalizing the act of employing illegals, and requiring the police to report illegal immigrants to the federal government. More than a third would keep illegal immigrant children out of public schools. Most exempt only churches from reporting the presence of illegal immigrants.

This may be a nation of immigrants (and 82% of the public agree that it is), but the President’s plan for executive action on immigration clearly does not sit well with many Americans. Democrats support the President’s decision to use an executive order to delay deportation proceedings for parents of U.S. citizens, but 51% of independents and 80% of Republicans oppose it.

Most independents and nearly all Republicans say the President should have waited for Congress to act on immigration – even though majorities think it is unlikely Congress will take action soon.

The President’s immigration actions has helped him at least with one group – one that was clearly disappointed in his previous activity on immigration – the country’s Hispanics. Two in three Hispanics consistently have supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and approve of the plan President Obama put forth in his speech last week.

By more than two to one, they approve of the President’s executive order.

Many Hispanics have a stake in immigration reform. Two in three are either immigrants or the children of immigrants (just one in five overall are in this category). 45% of Hispanics say they know someone who is an illegal immigrant, twice the percentage of Americans overall who do. Immigration runs second as the most important issue for Hispanics, behind only the economy, which is the most mentioned issue for all groups. 12% of Hispanics name immigration as their most important issue, compared with only 5% of the public overall.

The President’s plan has helped Hispanic overall opinion of him. His overall approval rating among Hispanics has risen eight points in the last week, although the rating from the overall public dropped below 40%. And when it comes to handling immigration, 53% of Hispanics approve, 13 points more than the immigration approval rating from the entire public, also up eight points since before the speech.

See the full poll results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.