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. From a recent article by Derek Thompson:
Pretty much all relevant polling data say the same thing. Here are a couple charts from the two leading academic surveys, the General Social Survey and the American National Election Study:· The share of Americans calling for lower levels of immigration has fallen from a high of 65 percent in the mid-1990s to just 35 percent, near its record low.· A 2017 Gallup poll found that fears that immigrants bring crime, take jobs from native-born families, or damage the budget and overall economy are all at all-time lows.· In the same poll, the percentage of Americans saying immigrants “mostly help” the economy reached its highest point since Gallup began asking the question in 1993.· A Pew Research poll asking if immigrants “strengthen [the] country with their hard work and talents” similarly found affirmative responses at an all-time high.
Moreover, as the polling data also show very consistently, the public is very supportive of the DREAMers and opposed to building a wall on the border with Mexico.
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. This chart from Ron Brownstein sums up the situation well:
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 the GOP hopes 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 immigration is beneficial. Otherwise,the immigration paradox is likely to continue, and continue to hurt the Democrats.