I posted about this a while ago but the release of new and interesting data by Pew is a good reason to revisit the topic.
Here are three things we know about the American public and immigration.
1. The American public is becoming more favorable, not less favorable, toward immigration. In fact, the public is not only more favorable but it is now at historically high levels of favorability toward immigration and immigrants. New Pew data tell us:
* The percent saying legal immigration should be decreased has gone down fairly steadily from 53 percent in 2001 to 24 percent today, while the percent saying it should be increased has gone from 10 to 32 percent. Even among Republicans there’s been a 10 point fall in the “decreased” percentage and a 7 point rise in the “increased” percentage.
* 69 percent of the public says they are “sympathetic” toward undocumented immigrants who are in the US illegally. This includes a 48 percent sympathetic/49 percent unsympathetic view among Republicans.
* Overall, by 71 to 20 percent, the public believes immigrants mostly fill jobs US citizens don’t want and by 65 to 26 percent, they say undocumented immigrants are no more likely to commit crimes than US citizens. The analogous figures among Republicans are 57-30 and 46-42.
* The public overwhelmingly believes (67 percent) that giving people who come to the US illegally a way to gain legal status does not constitute a “reward” for wrongdoing. Just 27 percent endorse the reward for wrongdoing perspective. Even among Republicans, the split on this question is very close to even (46/47).
* Finally, fewer and fewer people say they are bothered by encountering immigrants who speak little English. Currently, the not bothered/bothered split is 73-26. And 59 percent of Republicans put themselves in the not bothered category.
2. The places with the most immigration tend to be the ones least supportive of Trump and a hard line on immigration. Conversely, of course, if the exposure to immigrants is limited, that tends to correlate with high support for Trump and being hostile to immigration. And yet…despite a public that’s trending favorable toward immigrants, especially in areas where they are common, we have the third thing we know about the public and immigration:
3. Anti-immigrant feelings now have more political salience than they have had a very long time and that is hurting the Democrats. It is clearly the case that for an important minority of–primarily white noncollege–voters, they feel intensely enough about this issue to respond positively to anti-immigrant messages and candidates. Trump would not be President if this were not true. And Trump and the GOP–as their conduct this election cycle underscores–clearly hope they can continue to use this issue to keep these voters away from the Democratic party, a strategy that has worked to perfection in Rustbelt and other declining areas of the country.
Can the Democrats resolve this immigration paradox so they do not suffer politically for being pro-immigrant in country that is increasingly pro-immigrant? We shall see. But it would appear they need to think carefully about how to reach voters outside of blue America who do not start with the presumption that all immigration is completely beneficial. They may have concerns about it, both cultural and economic, despite holding at least some positive feelings about immigrants and immigration (as the Pew data on Republican immigration views suggests). It would be wise for Democrats to take these concerns seriously and not reflexively tar such people as “racist”, which, as Thomas Edsall noted in his most recent New York Times column, simply drives them into Trump’s hands .
Otherwise,the immigration paradox is likely to continue, and continue to hurt the Democrats.