Americans Divided on Immigration

Lydia Saad, Gallup News Service, Jul. 22

PRINCETON, NJ—While public opinion of immigration

has become less negative than it was in the first year or so after the 9/11

terrorist attacks, it has still not returned to the more positive level seen

between 1999 and 2001. In that period, more Americans generally thought immigration

should be maintained or increased rather than decreased. Gallup’s latest

data on immigration, collected as part of the annual Minority Rights and Relations

poll, finds only 14% of Americans wanting to see immigration increased; another

33% want it kept at the present level while 49% want it decreased.

At the same time, the current figures are not

nearly as negative as those seen in the early 1990s, when immigrants were widely

viewed as a threat to American workers in tough economic times. Gallup’s

lowest measures of support for immigration appeared in July 1993 and June 1995,

when 65% wanted a decrease.

Combining the percentage of Americans in support

of maintaining or increasing immigration, and contrasting this with the percentage

favoring a decrease in immigration, the following graph shows the historical

shifts on this measure.

The percentage favoring a reduction in immigration

rose between 1965 and 1993, and then leveled off at about 65% in 1995. This

lasted until the late 1990s, when Gallup recorded a reversal. In 1999, the majority

of Americans felt immigration should be maintained or increased, and this majority

actually grew larger until the 9/11 attacks occurred. A sharp and sudden change

occurred between June and October 2001, spanning the 9/11 attacks, and once

again more Americans wanted to curtail immigration. These feelings have since

tempered somewhat, but even today, the public tilts in favor of less immigration:

49% favor a decrease, while 47% favor an increase or maintaining the current


The fact that Saudis and other Arabs living in

the United States conducted the 9/11 terrorist attacks gave Americans a new

reason to be wary of immigration. Historically, however, immigration views have

tended to be linked with economics. As the following graph shows, prior to 2001,

support for increased immigration was low when the percentage giving high marks

to the economy was low. The increase in support for immigration seen in 1999

coincided with an increase in positive perceptions of the economy.

Given the generally negative ratings of the economy

today—only 35% consider the economy “excellent” or “good,”

while 62% call it “only fair” or “poor”—the economy

certainly can’t be helping the pro-immigrant cause recover from the damage

that 9/11 did.


Close to Half the Public Thinks Immigrants Worsen

Crime, Taxes

Another finding in the Minority Rights and Relations

poll paints a more detailed picture of Americans’ perceptions of immigrants,

and suggests economics continues to be a factor in negative attitudes toward


Gallup asked respondents to rate the impact immigrants

have on six different aspects of life in the United States. In all but one dimension,

more Americans think that immigrants make the situation worse rather than better.

This is especially true with respect to taxes and crime, on which close to half

the public thinks immigrants make the situation worse. Immigrants are also viewed

more negatively than positively in the areas of the overall economy, job opportunities,

and social and moral values.

It is only with respect to “food, music,

and the arts” that Americans are relatively positive: 44% of Americans

believe immigrants make these aspects of the culture better, compared with 10%

who believe immigrants make these worse—yielding a “net positive”

effect of +34 percentage points. (The remaining 42% say immigrants don’t

have much effect on this aspect of life in the United States.)

Effect of Immigrants on the United States



Not much effect


Net Effect






Food, music, and the arts





Social and moral values





The economy





Job opportunities















The trend shows that negative perceptions on these

dimensions are nothing new, although somewhat worse in 2002 and 2004 than they

were in June 2001.

Net Positive Effect of Immigrants

on the United States

% Make Better minus % Make Worse

Ranked by 2004


June 2001

June 2002

June 2004

Food, music, and the arts




Social and moral values




The economy




Job opportunities for you/your family












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