Immigration has become the defining issue of political parties

June 27, 2018, 6:30 PM GMT+0

79% of Democrats disapprove of separating children at the border, while 54% of Republicans approve

Last week’s battles over the separation of families who cross the border illegally appear to have stemmed what had been a good last few weeks for President Trump. His approval ratings in the Economist/YouGov Poll had risen above 40% (while disapproval fell below 50%), based mostly on perceptions of an improving economy and the historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. This week, the President’s approval rating is back down: 38% approve, 52% disapprove.

Immigration has become more important as an issue. The public has become more concerned about it, especially Republicans. More people this week than last say immigration is a very important issue for them. The percentage of Democrats saying this rose seven points in the last week to 48% today. The Republican percentage jumped 11 points.

70% of Republicans this week call immigration a very important issue for them personally. 17% of Republicans say it’s their most important issue. Those who voted for Trump in 2016 rank it number one this week: 20% name immigration as their most important issue, more than the percentage citing the economy, social security, or terrorism.

The separation of families has been the driving policy on opinions: American oppose it, by more than two to one. Even though the practice has been halted by executive order, the partisan gap in opinion is dramatic. Democrats and independents overwhelmingly oppose the separating families at the border, while a majority of Republicans support doing this. So do 2016 Trump voters, who favor the since-ended policy by two to one.

That gap exists on nearly every question about immigration.

  • While 44% of the public overall approves of arresting and jailing anyone who crosses the border without proper documentation, 89% of Republicans approve.
  • The public overall is forgiving of those already here, even if illegally: nearly two in three (64%) would let illegal immigrants stay in the country, though some would not let them become citizens. Republicans are overwhelmingly on the other side: 62% would deport them. 71% of Trump voters agree.
  • One reason for that opinion difference is that Republicans hold a negative view of illegal immigrants: 58% of Republicans say illegal immigrants commit more crimes than American citizens do. Only one in four (27%) overall thinks that.
  • 83% of Republicans favor building a wall on the US-Mexico border to try to stop illegal immigration, but Americans overall oppose doing that by 45% to 38%.

The distinctive immigration fear among Republicans is not just about illegal immigration, but extends as well to those who come to the U.S legally. Just about half of Republicans believe immigration has made the United States worse, as do 54% of Trump voters. Nearly half of Democrats say it has made this country better.

41% of Republicans would decrease legal immigration.

Republicans are also less likely than other Americans to say the United States should provide a haven even for those fleeing violence and political persecution, or those who seek asylum from religious persecution. Half the public overall would have the United States provide asylum in those cases. Only a third of Republicans would provide asylum to those fleeing political persecution; somewhat more would do so for those fleeing religious persecution.

The First Lady became entangled in the immigration debate when she visited a Texas site housing children separated from their parents as they entered the United States without documentation. It wasn’t her visit that sparked controversy, it was the jacket she wore boarding the plane she took to get there. The back of the jacket read: I REALLY DON’T CARE. DO U? [She did not wear the jacket at the site.] There was general consensus that this fashion choice was a mistake. Republicans, who overwhelmingly express positive views of the President and First Lady, are divided on this question.

But the First Lady remains the most popular Trump. She the only one about whom more people have a favorable opinion than an unfavorable one. Three of the President’s adult children, Ivanka, Eric and Donald, Jr. are viewed unfavorably, as is the President himself.

Read more topline and tables results here.

Image: Getty

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