WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nearly two out of three Americans (64%) are dissatisfied with the level of immigration into the country, down slightly from 72% in January 2008. About one in four (28%) are satisfied.
The latest results are from a Gallup poll conducted Jan. 5-8, 2012, to assess the mood of the nation at the start of this presidential election year. Americans' dissatisfaction with immigration ranks 3rd highest among 17 issues Gallup asked about; the complete list will be released ahead of next week's State of the Union address. Compared with 2008, the percentage of Americans who are very dissatisfied with the level of immigration, 39%, is down slightly.
Gallup posed a follow-up question only to those who say they are dissatisfied with the current level of immigration, asking whether the level of immigration should be increased, decreased, or remain the same. The net result is that 42% of all Americans are dissatisfied with the level of immigration and want it decreased -- down from 50% four years ago. Just 6% are dissatisfied and want the level of immigration increased, unchanged from 2008 but slightly higher than in previous years.
It is important to note that Gallup's question does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigration, a distinction that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney brought up in Monday night's debate in South Carolina. Romney did not dispute that he takes a tougher stance against illegal immigration than his Republican rivals, but said "I love legal immigration." Without that distinction, Americans have consistently favored a decrease in immigration over an increase, including in a different Gallup poll conducted in June 2011.
With the exception of the controversy over Arizona's immigration law, which Americans tended to favor when it was enacted, immigration has not received significant national attention over the past four years. Perhaps as a result, and because of seemingly more pressing economic issues, immigration is not high on Americans' priority list at the moment. In the current survey, 3% mention it as the nation's most important problem, compared with 11% in January 2008.
Still, immigration could become an election issue, because the majority of Republicans and conservatives are dissatisfied and in favor of less immigration. Most independents and Democrats are dissatisfied with the level of immigration and generally tilt toward decreased immigration. Among party and ideology groups, only liberals are more satisfied than dissatisfied on this issue.
Older Americans are more likely to be dissatisfied than younger Americans, while those in the South are the most likely to want to see immigration decreased.
Immigration has not been a top legislative priority or a top concern in Americans' eyes as the nation has focused more on its economic and financial troubles. Still, nearly two out of three Americans remain dissatisfied with the level of immigration into the country today. Further, 53% in June 2011 said it was extremely important that the government take steps to halt the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. As such, it is an issue that could generate strong feelings during the presidential election campaign or if a major legislative proposal comes to the forefront.
Americans' dissatisfaction with the current level of immigration does not predict their views on certain specific immigration policy proposals. If they had to choose, Americans express a slight preference for halting the flow of illegal immigrants into this country over dealing with illegal immigrants already in the country. At the same time, 54% said they would want their representative to vote in favor of the DREAM Act when that issue was being debated in 2010.
While the current survey did not include enough Hispanics to meaningfully report on their views, immigration is an important issue to this key voting constituency. As such, President Obama and his Republican rivals may seek to raise the issue in the campaign. Americans, and especially older Americans, Republicans, conservatives, and those in the South, will likely welcome proposals aimed at decreasing immigration.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 5-8, 2012, with a random sample of 1,011 national adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.