If someone told you 75% of the population of a particular country believed immigration was a good thing, where would you think they were talking about? What if they went on to tell you 28% of the people of that country thought immigration ought to increase, would that help to narrow it down?
It’s likely at least one of the Nordic countries would make your shortlist, famed as they are for their openness and tolerance. Maybe Germany too, which, though experiencing rising anti-immigration sentiment, has accepted more asylum seekers than any other EU member state.
But according to the polling company Gallup, it’s actually three quarters of Americans who think immigration is a positive thing.
At 75%, it’s the highest it’s ever been since the Gallup poll began shortly after the turn of the century. This seems to suggest that the American public’s attitudes towards immigration may be at odds with the current US administration’s steps to limit undocumented migration, including the controversial decision to separate children from their parents.
And there’s more to this than superficial political opposition, as that broadly positive sentiment was found right across the American political spectrum – Republicans and Democrats alike.
In addition to a record high in support of immigration, there is also a record low in the number of people calling for a decrease in the number of migrants coming into the US. Just 29% say it should be decreased, while 29% would like to see it rise and 39% are quite content with the way things currently are.
Strong support for legal immigration
Gallup conducted phone interviews with just over 1,500 US adults (aged 18+) across all 50 states from 1-13 June 2018.
The pollsters have been asking the American public what it thinks about immigration since 2001. But this year, for the first time, it split the sample in order to ask one half a more nuanced question: “On the whole, do you think legal immigration is a good thing or a bad thing for this country today?”
The addition of the word “legal” garnered an even more positive response, with 84% saying it’s a good thing and only 13% saying it wasn’t. That compares with 75% good and 19% bad for those who were just asked about immigration.
While 2018’s survey delivered a record high, positive attitudes toward immigration have been the norm for Americans since Gallup first asked about them 17 years ago. In fact, the only year in which a majority of US adults from the two sides of the political coin didn’t agree that it was a positive thing was 2002, just nine months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Back then, slightly less than half of Republicans said immigration was good thing. But even then an overall majority of 52% expressed the view that it was good, thanks to the positive views expressed by 58% of Democrats.
When broken down along party political lines, Gallup found 85% of those who see themselves as Democrats and 65% of Republicans/Republican supporters view immigration positively.
For those asked specifically about legal immigration, 92% of Democrats and 80% of Republicans are in favour.
How Americans feel about immigration policy
Unless you’ve been studiously avoiding the news for the last few weeks, you’ll be aware of the US administration’s controversial “zero-tolerance” policy toward illegal immigration, which led to the decision to separate children from their parents.
When he campaigned for election in 2016, Donald Trump made immigration control one of his key policy areas, including a headline-grabbing proposal for a Mexican border wall.
The infamous wall is not popular with the majority of Americans either, according to the Gallup poll which found 57% against it, compared with 41% who are in favour.
A significantly larger majority of US adults are against another key immigration proposal, affecting the so-called Dreamers. Currently, children who entered the US as illegal immigrants are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) laws. The decision to repeal these protections could result in almost 800,000 people losing their right to stay in the US.
The Dreamers are mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. To qualify for protection under DACA they must have been younger than 31 on 15 June 2012, when the programme began, without legal immigration status, must have arrived in the US before their 16th birthday, and have lived there continuously since June 2007.