Despite Trump, Americans Think Immigration Is A Good Thing

Notwithstanding the rhetoric of the President and his supporters, most Americans believe that immigration is a good thing for the United States.

Over the course of the seventeen months it has been in existence, the Trump Presidency has seen the enactment of some of the most restrictive anti-immigrant policies that the nation has seen since the end of World War Two. Within a week after he was sworn into office, for example, the President signed the first of what has not become three versions of a travel ban that is aimed primarily at nations that are predominantly Muslim. In September of last year, he issued an Executive Order bringing President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to an end, although that order has been blocked by a series of court rulings out of California, Maryland, New York, and the District of Columbia and the program is still operating. Most recently, of course, we’ve seen the implementation of a “zero tolerance” policy at the Mexican border that led to thousands of children being separated from their parents, setting off a political controversy that was partly alleviated by yesterday’s decision by the President to end family separation even though he’d spent the better part of a week claiming that only Congress and the Democrats could change what was happening on the ground.

It’s in the middle of all this that Gallup is out with a new poll showing that a record number of Americans believe that, overall, immigration is a good thing for the country:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A record-high 75% of Americans, including majorities of all party groups, think immigration is a good thing for the U.S. — up slightly from 71% last year. Just 19% of the public considers immigration a bad thing.

The latest findings are based on a Gallup poll conducted June 1-13, a key time for immigration reform in the U.S. as the House of Representatives debates the issue. The House will vote this week on two pieces of legislation that address several key immigration policy reforms. Among them are the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally at a young age with their parents and the border wall that has been the cornerstone of President Donald Trump’s immigration policy.

At the same time, Trump has been under strong bipartisan pressure to amend the “zero-tolerance” policy that resulted in the separation from their parents of more than 2,000 children of migrants illegally crossing the U.S. border from Mexico in recent months. Trump bowed to the pressure on Wednesday, signing an executive order to keep children and their parents in the same location.

Meanwhile, proposed legislation by conservative members of Congress would include actions to cut back on the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. legally. Republican legislators are facing a public that is largely supportive of immigration into the U.S., in general. In all but one year since Gallup started asking this question in 2001, majorities of Americans across party lines have viewed immigration as positive for the U.S. The exception came in 2002, when slightly less than half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents thought immigration was a good thing, although 58% of Democrats and Democratic leaners held this view. So a majority nationally, 52%, were still positive. This was recorded about nine months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks were committed by hijackers holding legal visas. Currently, 85% of Democrats and Democratic leaners and 65% of Republicans and Republican leaners view immigration positively.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about these numbers is the fact that they were largely true across parties, with even a solid majority of Republicans saying that they believed immigration was a good thing:


The poll also found that the number of Americans who believe that immigration levels should be decreased is lower than it has been in the past:

Corroborating the data that show Americans believe immigration is good for the country, a separate Gallup trend question shows a record-low number of Americans — 29% — saying that immigration into the U.S. should be decreased. A plurality of 39% think immigration into the U.S. should be kept at its present level, while 28% say it should be increased.

These results mark a six-point drop from one year ago in the percentage of those preferring a reduction in immigration. In the past 20 years, the highest reading for those calling for a decrease in immigration levels was in October 2001, about a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The change in “decreased” sentiment was roughly uniform across party affiliation. Currently, 44% of Democrats and Democratic leaners would prefer immigration to be kept at the present level, 36% would like it increased and 15% say it should be decreased. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 35% think immigration should be kept at its current level, 20% would like it increased and 42% say decreased.

The trend with respect to this question can be seen in this chart:


As Philip Bump notes in The Washington Post, the fact that these numbers are so high in the Trump Era, even among Republicans, is interesting, to say the least. Based on his rhetoric and the fact that he is strongly supported at least among Republicans, one would have thought that this President was reflecting a distinct change in public perceptions of immigration issues as a whole. The gap between the President and public opinion in this area also extends to specific policy areas. Yesterday, for example, Gallup released other poll results that showed that most Americans opposed the President’s position on the construction of a border wall as well as his position on DACA. This is consistent with other polling on both issues that show a majority of Americans, and even a majority of Republicans, are not on the same page as the President or the hardliners in the Republican Party on immigration issues. In fact, the only demographic group that seems to support Trump’s positions on immigration are the hardcore group of people who have supported him from the start of his campaign when he made opposition to immigration and the adoption of hardline positions like the construction of a border wall a central part of his campaign.

As a practical matter, it’s unclear exactly what this means. Generally speaking, immigration is not an issue that drives people to the ballot box with the exception of those on the left and the right who are strongly motivated by the issue. It’s possible, of course, that the current scrutiny being given to the issue thanks to the controversy that arose over the course of the past week, along with the ongoing debate over the fate of DACA beneficiaries, could change that in a manner that could end up harming Republicans in the General Election, but historically speaking that is unlikely ,Instead, the primary motivation for voters in November is likely to be the same as usual, with the economy and jobs being at the top of the list for most voters absent some other factors that end up pushing those issues to the side. In the case of immigration, it’s possible that Trump himself could accomplish that if he follows through with his previous threats to force a government shutdown unless he gets funding for his border wall. In that case, he would be putting the immigration issue back on the table less than a month before the election. Poll numbers like these suggest that he could end up regretting that.



FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    My hope since that dark day in November of 2016 has been that the broader American culture would reject Trumpism, that culture would act as a check and a counterweight. I think that’s turned out to be a valid hope, still not settled, but encouraging.

    It’s important I think to understand that people like our local OTB cultists had visions of changing the social structure. They were never economic rebels, that was all cover. They hated gays and uppity black people and Messicans and atheists and transgender folk, and they believed that by now they’d be strutting around like conquering heroes proclaimed as visionaries who’d seen what all we liberals missed.

    In fact, even in Washington DC, Trumpies are rejected. They haven’t gained ground even a little on public support for LGBTQ rights and they’ve actually lost ground on immigration. So instead of strutting around saying, “I told you so,” they’re reduced to arguing that it’s OK to cage babies, and generally earning ridicule and contempt.

    Saracens and Mongols both practiced a simple trick where they would retreat in apparent panic from European forces who would inevitably launch a gleeful attack only to discover too late that what looked like a rout was a ruse de guerre. Yes, after November 2016 we were dispirited and it looked as if we’d be driven from the field. Turns out: nope. We’re still here and we are winning.

  2. Jay L Gischer says:

    Both Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon believe that whenever the news cycle turns to immigration, they are winning, electorally speaking. The first round of this – the Muslim immigration ban right after inauguration – is when this came out.

    I don’t know how to square that with these poll numbers, though. I don’t think either Bannon or Miller is stupid. They may see only what they want to see, though generally I find Bannon is not all that susceptible. I despise his values, but he’s pretty smart.

    I find that a few of my conservative correspondents agree that the (immigration) state of affairs is bad, but want to deflect in some way.

  3. Kylopod says:

    Rep. Jim Jordan said the following: “Well, the simple answer [for the failure of the immigration bill] is that not enough Republicans are willing to do what we told the American people we were going to do when they elected us.”

    One of the most pervasive fallacies in politics is the idea that winning an election constitutes an official stamp of approval by the public for everything in the winning candidate’s platform. Trump won very much despite his views on immigration, not because of them. According to CNN’s exit polls, 70% of voters believe that illegal immigrants working in the US “should be offered legal status,” while only 25% believe they should be “deported to their home country.” In Wisconsin, the numbers were scarcely any different than nationally: 69/26. In Texas, it was 71/22.

  4. Yank says:

    It’s in the middle of all this that Gallup is out with a new poll showing that a record number of Americans believe that, overall, immigration is a good thing for the country:

    This is why Trump, Kelly, Miller etc. are trying to sneaking in cuts to legal immigration through the back door.

  5. Timothy Watson says:

    @Kylopod: Then why the fuck did they vote for Trump? They’re either lying to the pollsters or there’s some massive cognitive dissonance at work.

  6. Kylopod says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    Then why the fuck did they vote for Trump? They’re either lying to the pollsters or there’s some massive cognitive dissonance at work.

    The point cannot be emphasized enough: The vast majority of voters in this country vote based on the R or D after a candidate’s name, nothing more.

  7. MBunge says:

    Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice…

    Remember how you felt on November 9, 2016? Do you want to feel that way on November 7, 2018? How about November 4, 2020?


  8. Kathy says:

    It’s very much like what Doug keeps saying about gun control: people favor it, but it’s not a priority. And those opposed are very vocal and influential in the primary elections.

    In addition, Americans are woefully ignorant when it comes to immigration policy(*), most particularly those who claim to only oppose illegal immigration. I think some realize it, but most don’t that when they say “get in line,” they may as well be saying “then let them eat cake.”

    The “line” stretches for decades. If you have family who are legal residents or citizens of the US, it’s only years. If you have certain skills and qualify for an H-1B visa, you’re at the mercy of your employer’s good will.

    There’s a reason why people enter illegally, and why others game the system. The fastest means is to marry a US citizen, or to invest $1 million on an enterprise that creates 10 (ten) jobs for American citizens.

    Perhaps the Us does not have the most restrictive immigration laws, but the law is very restrictive. At the same time, there is demand for labor that clearly is not met domestically; otherwise immigrants, legal or not, would find no work when they got to America.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    @MBunge: Well, Cadet Bones Spurs is even more incompetent and childish than I thought, and his supporters are even more obsequious than I would have dreamed.

    By the time they realize how stupid they have been, China will have taken over the world’s economy. Oh well. You snooze, you lose. Guess you’ll have to learn that the hard way.


  10. Kylopod says:

    @MBunge: The piece you link to cites an Economist/YouGov poll that the author neglects to mention includes the following data:

    – 52% of respondents said that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the US and apply for citizenship

    – 35% say they should be required to leave

    – 29% approve of the family-separation policy, 54% disapprove

    The author doesn’t mention any of that, instead engaging in a thoroughly tortured cherry-picking of the results to suggest that the public somehow supports Trump’s immigration policies–a conclusion explicitly contradicted by the poll itself.

  11. teve tory says:

    Bunge probly believes Trump’s “Red Wave” is coming this fall. I’m sure Barb does.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice…

    More like the Legion of Doom, as Kylopod’s comments clarify…

  13. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory:

    Bunge probly believes Trump’s “Red Wave” is coming this fall.

    Trump seems to have this pathological “I know you are but what am I?” knee-jerk response to everything. You say black, he says white. The reason he’s talking about a “red wave” is to counter the current media narrative about a “blue wave.”

    The problem here (aside from the fact that the phrase “red wave” is a badly mixed metaphor) is that, while it’s plausible that Dems will perform underwhelmingly this November (say, picking up only 15 House seats and losing a couple of Senate seats), and Republicans will have legitimate reason to cheer if that happens, that wouldn’t by any stretch of the imagination constitute a Republican wave election.

    It’s like when Trump screams “NO COLLUSION!!!” and you get the sense he doesn’t actually know what the word “collusion” means; he just hears people accusing him of something and he feels he has to say the opposite.

  14. Kylopod says:

    Recently it occurred to me that one of his targets in the media ought to troll him by pretending to insult him while actually using some fancy word he doesn’t realize is actually a compliment, just to provoke him into ranting on Twitter to deny the charge. It will go something like this:

    Don Lemon: “Breaking news: Trump has tremendous éclat!”

    Trump: “No eclat! You’re the eclat!”

  15. CSK says:


    Here’s what puzzles me: Trump doesn’t use computers, because he apparently can’t figure out how they work. People have to Google things for him. So how did he figure out how to use a smart phone and master Twitter? He’s had his Twitter account since March 2009. Apple didn’t mass market the first iphone till 2007. Does he just dictate Tweets to some minion who follows him around 24/7?

  16. al Ameda says:

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — A record-high 75% of Americans, including majorities of all party groups, think immigration is a good thing for the U.S. — up slightly from 71% last year. Just 19% of the public considers immigration a bad thing.

    75% ? ….. I think a lot of people are either lying to pollsters, or they’re saying ‘I like the immigration that brought my ancestors to America, not this illegal Mexican and Central American immigration.’

  17. teve tory says:

    Just 19% of the public considers immigration a bad thing.

    @al Ameda: Donald Trump got 62.9 million votes. There are 325 million americans. That means 19% of americans voted for him.


  18. Kathy says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    I don’t know how to square that with these poll numbers, though. I don’t think either Bannon or Miller is stupid.

    I maintain that it is the hallmark of a smart person to know they will be stupid at times, and the hallmark of a stupid person to believe they never will. The latter are prevented by their belief from recognizing stupid mistakes when they make them.

    We know Trump’s base cares about immigration, and is rabidly fanatical on the subject. Many more mainstream Republicans who may consider immigration a good thing, will qualify it as “legal immigration.” These also will say they want to “secure the border,” and will go into full law-and-order mode in denouncing illegal immigrants as criminals because they break the law.

    What this may show is the the Cheeto’s base will salivate at the tough talk on immigration, and many, if not most, of the rest of the Republicans will appreciate it. Doublethink is not just for fanatics.

  19. Neil Hudelson says:

    @teve tory:

    I believe the 325 million number includes children.

    As a share of the adult populace, Trump received a much higher proportion of support.

    (I’m not sure whose argument that correction helps…)

  20. Tyrell says:

    Sure – most people support legal immigration. The people who go through the legal process and wait there turn should not get the slap in the face of amnesty for those who parade in here illegally. And there are organizations of legal immigrants who oppose the illegal immigrants and any proposals of some amnesty idea.