How Immigration and Concerns About Cultural Change are Shaping the 2016 Election

Betsy Cooper et al., PRRI, June 23, 2016

Executive Summary

Public Anxiety: Threat of Terrorism, Crime, and Unemployment

Today, a slim majority (51%) of Americans report feeling somewhat or very worried that they or a member of their family will become a victim of terrorism. Concerns have increased 18 percentage points since late 2014, when one-third (33%) of Americans said they were at least somewhat worried about being a victim of terrorism.

More than six in ten (63%) Americans also report being at least somewhat worried that they or a family member will be a victim of violent crime.

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The general public is evenly divided over whether American culture and way of life has mostly changed for the better (49%) or changed for the worse (50%) since the 1950s.

  • White working-class Americans (62%) and white evangelical Protestants (70%) are among the most likely to believe that American culture and the American way of life has changed for the worse since the 1950s.
  • More than two-thirds of Republicans (68%) and Donald Trump supporters (68%)–Republican and Republican-leaning independents who supported Trump during the primary–believe the American way of life has changed for the worse since the 1950s, while roughly the same number of Democrats (66%) say things have improved. Independents closely mirror the general public.

A majority (55%) of Americans believe that the American way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence, while more than four in ten (44%) disagree.

  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Republicans and about eight in ten (83%) Trump supporters agree that the foreign influence over the American way of life needs to be curtailed, compared to approximately four in ten (41%) Democrats. Political independents’ attitudes mirror those of Americans overall.

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Americans are evenly divided about the extent to which they believe discrimination against whites, or so-called “reverse discrimination,” is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities (49% agree, 49% disagree).

  • Approximately six in ten (57%) white Americans and roughly two-thirds (66%) of white working-class Americans agree that discrimination against whites is as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities, an opinion shared by fewer than four in ten (38%) Hispanic Americans and fewer than three in ten (29%) black Americans.

Americans are also split over how comfortable they feel around immigrants who do not speak English: half (50%) say that they are bothered when they come in contact with immigrants who speak little or no English, while nearly as many (49%) say this would not bother them.

  • Nearly six in ten (58%) white Americans say they are not comfortable being around immigrants who speak little or no English, compared to four in ten (40%) black Americans and under one-quarter (22%) of Hispanic Americans.
  • Roughly two-thirds (66%) of Republicans and 77% of Trump supporters express discomfort when coming into contact with immigrants who do not speak English, while nearly two-thirds (64%) of Democrats say this does not bother them.
  • Nearly six in ten (58%) seniors (age 65 and older) say they are bothered coming into contact with immigrants who speak little or no English, compared to fewer than four in ten (37%) young adults (age 18-29).

Nearly six in ten (57%) Americans say the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life, while four in ten (40%) Americans disagree.

  • Approximately eight in ten Republicans (79%) and Trump supporters (83%) believe the values of Islam are at odds with the American way of life. This view is shared by a majority (54%) of independents and less than half (42%) of Democrats. A majority (55%) of Democrats say Islam does not conflict with American values.

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Fewer than four in ten Americans say the current immigration system in the United States is generally working (6%) or working but with some major problems (32%), while more than six in ten say the immigration system is broken but working in some areas (36%) or completely broken (26%).

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Americans remain firmly committed to an immigration policy that provides a path to citizenship, compared to other policy options. More than six in ten (61%) Americans say immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be allowed a way to become citizens, provided they meet certain requirements. Roughly one in five (17%) say they would prefer illegal immigrants to be eligible for permanent residency status but not citizenship, and roughly an equal number (21%) say all immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be deported. Notably, support for a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally has remained steady since early 2013.

Nearly six in ten (58%) Americans oppose building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, compared to 41% who support the idea.

  • Roughly two-thirds (66%) of Republicans and 82% of Trump supporters support building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, while only four in ten (40%) independents and 23% of Democrats favor it.

A majority (55%) of Americans oppose passing a law that would deny Syrian refugees entrance to the U.S., compared to fewer than half (44%) who support it.

  • Seven in ten (70%) Democrats oppose the passage of a law that would prevent Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., while 66% of Republicans and 78% of Trump supporters endorse such a measure.

Nearly six in ten Americans (58%) also oppose placing a temporary ban on Muslims from other countries entering the U.S., compared to four in ten (40%) who support this proposal.

  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Republicans and 77% of Trump supporters favor a temporary ban on Muslims from coming to the U.S., while roughly three-quarters (74%) of Democrats oppose it.

Americans are more likely to say that the Democratic Party (49%), rather than the Republican Party (39%), represents their views on immigration well.

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Americans are more divided over whether immigrants are more of a benefit or burden in our society. Close to half (47%) of Americans say immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents, while 43% say immigrants are a burden on the country because they take jobs, housing, and health care.

  • About two-thirds (65%) of Republicans, and eight in ten (80%) Trump supporters, say immigrants constitute a burden on America because they take jobs, housing, and health care, while fewer than three in ten (27%) Democrats say the same. About two-thirds (64%) of Democrats say immigrants strengthen the country with their hard work and talents, a view held by only 26% of Republicans.

Americans overwhelmingly believe immigrants coming to America today generally take jobs that Americans don’t want. Nearly seven in ten (68%) Americans say new immigrants mostly take jobs Americans do not want, while just one-quarter (25%) of Americans believe these immigrants take jobs away from American citizens.

At the same time, a majority (54%) of Americans say illegal immigrants mostly hurt the economy by driving down wages, while four in ten (39%) Americans say illegal immigrants generally help the economy by providing low cost labor.

Americans are nearly twice as likely to say immigrants are changing American society “a lot” as they are to say immigrants are changing their local communities “a lot” (39% vs. 22%, respectively).

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