- Americans are sharply divided over the direction U.S. immigration should take
- The 38% wanting it decreased is up from low of 28% in 2020
- About two-thirds of Republicans vs. 17% of Democrats want less immigration
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. remains highly fractured over immigration policy, with 27% of Americans saying immigration should be increased, 31% preferring that it be kept at the current level and 38% wanting it decreased.
While today's attitudes are generally in line with the close division of views seen over the past several years, they mark a return to more Americans wanting immigration decreased rather than increased. That has been the norm throughout Gallup's history of polling on this since 1965.
The latest results are based on a Gallup poll conducted July 5-26.
Americans' support for expanding immigration reached its all-time high of 34% two years ago and held there, at 33%, in 2021, before dipping to this year's 27%. Over the same two-year period, the desire to see immigration decreased has risen 10 points from its all-time low of 28%.
The preference for decreased immigration was highest in 1993 and 1995, at 65%. This coincided with a bipartisan focus on immigration, with then-President Bill Clinton pushing for strengthening border control and curtailing the hiring of migrants who entered the U.S. illegally, and the Republican governor of California at the time, Pete Wilson, supporting a statewide proposition that would exclude migrants there illegally from access to public services.
After dropping to 38% by 2000, Americans' desire for less immigration surged to 58% in October 2001. This was in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, carried out by men who were in the U.S. on nonimmigrant tourist, work or student visas.
Close to half of Americans typically continued to want less immigration through 2010, but no more than about four in 10 have since held that view.
Republicans' Desire for Less Immigration Has Surged Since 2020
The mounting desire for decreased immigration in recent years has been driven mainly by Republicans, whose preference for reducing immigration is up 21 points since June 2020, when 48% expressed this. This contrasts with a five-point increase among independents, to 33%, and a four-point increase among Democrats, to 17%.
Longer term, views on immigration policy have become increasingly polarized. In 2008, at the end of the George W. Bush administration, 46% of Republicans and 39% of Democrats wanted immigration decreased -- a seven-percentage-point difference. By 2009, that gap had widened to 17 points, and it has since stretched to the current 52 points.
Gallup's question about the direction of U.S. immigration doesn't specify whether it refers to legal or illegal immigration, so this is left to the interpretation of respondents. However, the latest party figures are remarkably similar to partisans' level of worry about the problem of illegal immigration when measured in March. At that time, Gallup found 18% of Democrats, 39% of independents and 68% of Republicans saying they worry "a great deal" about illegal immigration.
Relatedly, the July survey finds 15% of Republicans versus 3% of independents and less than 1% of Democrats identifying illegal immigration as the most important problem facing the country.
Seven in 10 Americans Still See Immigration as a Benefit to the U.S.
With the majority of Americans, 58%, still wanting the number of people coming to the U.S. from other countries either increased or kept as is, the majority also continue to believe that, on the whole, immigration is a good thing for the country. Seven in 10 take this position, while 24% say immigration is a bad thing for the country.
The 70% seeing immigration as a benefit in the latest poll is the lowest since 2014, but not nearly as low as was measured in the early 2000s, when as little as 52% said immigration was a good thing for the U.S.
Majorities of most key subgroups of Americans currently see immigration as a good thing, but the extent of this viewpoint varies by age, education and party ID.
- Adults aged 18 to 34 (83%) as well as those 35 to 54 (76%) are far more likely than adults 55 and older (57%) to consider immigration a good thing.
- College graduates (80%) are more positive about immigration than adults with some college (65%) or no college education (64%).
- Democrats (86%) are nearly twice as likely as Republicans (46%) to say immigration is a good thing for the country. Independents' outlook, with 75% calling it a good thing, is far closer to Democrats' than Republicans' views on the issue.
As a fairly young country, the United States has relied on immigration for its economic and cultural vitality, and Americans largely embrace it as beneficial. But the border crisis of recent years has sparked a highly partisan debate about how to handle the large demand for entry to the U.S. from Central and South America, and that is likely affecting Americans' views toward immigration generally. With a large majority of Republicans wanting immigration decreased, half of Democrats wanting it increased and independents somewhere in the middle, the country as a whole is sharply torn on the issue.
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