LEWISBURG, Pa. – President Trump’s harder stance on immigration may be at odds with Americans’ significantly improved perceptions of new immigrants since he became President, according to a recent Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) national survey.
The nationally representative survey, conducted by YouGov for Bucknell from March 26-April 1, found that perceptions of new immigrants, as well as perceptions of the economic and cultural value that immigrants bring to the United States, have improved across all measures since BIPP conducted a similar survey in July 2016.
The new survey also finds that Americans hold generally positive views about the traits that immigrants bring to the country and believe that immigrants add value to the country.
“The growing positivity that Americans have toward immigration since the election extends not just to issues of public policy, but perceptions of immigrants as people,” said Chris Ellis, a political science professor and director of the Bucknell Survey Research Laboratory. “For many Americans, views on immigration policy depend strongly on how they think immigrants will change the country. And since the election, these views have become more strongly positive.”
There are expected partisan divides — with Democrats viewing immigrants more favorably than Republicans — but Americans of all political stripes hold at least some positive views about new immigrants.
Americans are growing more positive about the net impact of immigration in the U.S.
Pluralities of Americans think that the entrance of new immigrants to the country has a net positive impact on overall economic growth, on the culture of their local community, and on the affordability of everyday products purchased by consumers. According to the survey, 49 percent of Americans think that immigration has a positive impact on economic growth, while 31 percent think that it has a negative impact. Forty-four percent think that immigration has a positive impact on their community’s culture, compared with 29 percent who think that it has a negative impact. And 38 percent think that immigration has a positive impact on the affordability of everyday products, while 20 percent think that it has a negative impact.
Importantly, the percentage of Americans that find immigration to be a net positive has markedly improved in the past two years. In the July 2016 survey, 36 percent thought immigrants had a positive impact on economic growth (compared to 49 percent today), 37 percent thought immigrants had a positive impact on community culture (compared to 44 percent today), and 29 percent thought immigrants had a positive impact on the affordability of products (compared to 38 percent today).
“Americans historically tend to react against the rhetoric and policy direction of the party in power,” Ellis said. “It’s certainly likely that Trump’s tough talk and action to combat immigration has made immigrants as a group more positively viewed in the public eye.”
Americans were less optimistic about the role that immigration plays in the areas of employment and wages. Just 26 percent thought immigration had a positive impact on employment prospects in their area (compared to 35 percent who thought it had a negative impact), and 21 percent thought immigration had a positive impact on their own wages (compared to 35 percent who thought it had a negative impact). Still, these percentages also improved from 2016, when 19 percent thought immigration had a positive impact on employment and 16 percent thought it had a positive impact on wages.
Americans describe immigrants in positive terms
Americans generally describe new immigrants in positive terms. Huge majorities think that the traits “hardworking” (85 percent), “ambitious” (81 percent) and intelligent (71 percent) describe new immigrants at least somewhat well, while 35 percent think that the trait “violent” describes immigrants at least somewhat well.
Among the positive traits, there were partisan divides in how immigrants were viewed, with Democrats and Independents more likely than Republicans to view immigrants in positive terms. Democrats in particular were nearly universally likely to say that immigrants were hardworking (95 percent) and ambitious (94 percent). But even majorities of Republicans attributed some positive attributes to immigrants, with 77 percent saying that they were hardworking, 68 percent saying that they were ambitious, and 55 percent saying that they were intelligent.
Additionally, 22 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Independents thought the trait “violent” described immigrants at least somewhat well, while more than half (55 percent) of Republicans felt this way.
Americans do not think immigration is a threat to the American way of life
Twenty-nine percent of Americans agreed that “new immigrants are a threat to our values and our way of life in the United States,” while 47 percent of Americans (and 46 percent of white Americans) disagreed with this statement.
These results broke in expected ways across political lines, yet also showed that Trump voters are not a monolithic anti-immigration bloc. Among those who reported voting for Hillary Clinton, 11 percent said that immigrants were a threat to the American way of life; 76 percent disagreed. A plurality (47 percent) of Trump voters, by contrast, agreed that immigration threatened the American way of life, although 23 percent disagreed with this statement and 30 percent had no opinion.
Immigrants contribute more to the U.S. economy than they take
Americans are generally positive about the role that immigrants play in the U.S. economy. Nearly half (48 percent) agree that “new immigrants contribute more to our economy than they take from it,” while just 26 percent disagree with that statement.
Yet this topic also produced larger splits between Clinton and Trump voters. Clinton voters were overwhelmingly (73 percent) of the belief that immigrants contribute more to the economy than they take, while only 10 percent disagreed. Less than a fifth (18 percent) of Trump voters said that immigrants contribute more than they take, while a majority (53 percent) disagreed.
Additional data and methodological information can be found here.