Americans say immigration is a serious problem

September 10, 2019, 1:15 PM GMT+0

Americans, it seems, haven’t forgotten about the Dreamers.

According to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, Americans express concern about the group of immigrants that was brought to the United States illegally as children who were protected from deportation by the Obama administration, but whose status is now unclear.

The concern is partisan: most Democrats care at least somewhat about the Dreamers (88%) and believe their Congressional party does, too (84%). Republicans express less concern (60%), and more Republicans believe President Donald Trump cares about dreamers (72%) than say the same about themselves.

Republicans in this week’s poll cite immigration as their most important issue, a change from their focus on the economy at the start of the Trump Presidency. Nearly one in five (19%) chose it this week, almost twice as many as the 11 percent of the total population that name immigration, and four times as many as the 5 percent of Democrats who chose it. The economy is in second place for Republicans.

As a group, Republicans who are focused on immigration take a harsher line than Republicans in general: nearly all favor the border wall and would deport those who are in the United States illegally. While 60 percent of Republicans say they care at least somewhat about the Dreamers, nearly two-thirds of those who care the most about immigration say they care little or not at all about them.

The Dreamer program is supported by more than twice the number that oppose it, but Republicans divide almost evenly in support and opposition. But Republicans today are more supportive of the DACA (“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”) program than they were a year and a half ago. In January 2018, 33 percent of Republicans supported DACA. Now 43 percent do, a rise of 10 points.

Republicans are also more likely now than they were then to say they care about Dreamers. Even though only 18 percent of Republicans today say they care “a lot,” that’s double the percentage in January 2018. But those Republicans who care most about immigration overwhelmingly oppose DACA.

More than a third of US adults are connected to an immigrant: they have a grandparent or parent who was an immigrant (or are immigrants themselves); but an immigration experience doesn’t always make people more positive about immigrants. One in four Republicans, Democrats and independents say they know someone who is an illegal immigrant. That doesn’t seem to affect attitudes either. Party identification is much more important.

Some people make no distinction between legal and illegal immigrants. 27 percent of Republicans favor decreasing legal immigration. Just 21 percent would increase it. But opinion on illegal immigration among Republicans is fundamentally the same no matter the respondent’s attitude about legal immigration.

While six in 10 adults believe immigration is a serious problem for the nation, just a third call it a serious problem in their own community.

Most Americans, whatever their political party, recognize that the country is a nation of immigrants, and most believe that the inscription on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) applied in the past, but is less likely to apply today. Should it apply in the future? A majority would like to see that happen, but that majority is mostly because of Democrats. Republicans are no more likely to want the poem to apply in the future than believe it applies today.

See the full toplines and tables results from this week's Economist/YouGov poll.

Related: When Trump took office, Republicans’ most important issue was the economy. Now, it’s immigration.

Image: Getty