PRINCETON, NJ -- President Barack Obama's decision not to deport young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children comes at a time when Americans' views toward immigration are much more positive than they have been in recent years. Currently, 66% say immigration is a "good thing" for the U.S. today, up from 59% last year and one percentage point off the high of 67% in 2006.
The findings reflect a June 7-10 Gallup poll, conducted just days before the Obama administration put U.S. immigration back into the headlines by announcing that it would bypass Congress and stop deporting undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children -- a change that would affect hundreds of thousands of people.
An update to one of Gallup's longest-standing questions on immigration finds more Americans in favor of keeping levels the same (42%) than in favor of decreasing them (35%). For most of the past 40 years, the opposite has been true, with more calling for decreased immigration than keeping the status quo.
In fact, the 35% who now favor decreased immigration is the lowest Gallup has measured on this trend since 1965. At the same time, the 21% who favor increased immigration is the largest percentage Gallup has measured.
The high point in support for decreased immigration came in the early to mid-1990s, when the state of California took action against illegal immigrants living there.
The apparent softening toward immigration is also evident in a separate question that finds a shift in Americans' immigration priorities. The poll finds 55% saying the main focus of immigration policy should be to deal with immigrants in the U.S. illegally, while 41% believe it should be halting the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. In Gallup surveys dating back to 2006, Americans consistently preferred that the U.S. concentrate its efforts on stopping illegal immigration.
While it is unclear if Americans favor or oppose the new immigration steps Obama announced Friday, the new policy does fall under Americans' now-preferred focus point on immigration, as it partially addresses the fate of some illegal immigrants already in the United States.
Republicans, Democrats More Positive on Immigration
Americans' more positive outlook on immigration this year is generally evident among all party groups, more so among Democrats and Republicans than independents. Democrats are more positive about immigration than Republicans and independents.
The reasons behind Americans' more positive views of immigration are unclear. Immigration levels are slowing in the United States, so perhaps Americans, to the extent they are aware, see less of a need to limit it. Also, the government's inability to enact comprehensive reform during the Bush or Obama administrations may have given the issue less political urgency.
Gallup did find immigration ranking among the least important issues when Americans were asked which would be most important to their 2012 presidential vote. And 2% currently say it is the most important problem facing the country, down from a high of 19% in April 2006.
It is possible the issue could rise in salience in the near term, though, given the Obama administration's recent move, and the Supreme Court's upcoming ruling on the Arizona immigration law.
The way Americans react to those events could cause a change in their immigration attitudes, but for now, Americans have a more positive orientation toward immigration than at any point in at least six years.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 7-10, 2012, with a random sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
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.