Polls Find Majority Support For Path To Citizenship For Illegal Immigrants

A positive political climate for immigration reform.


The battles over immigration reform on Capitol Hill are just beginning, but if early polls are any indication there is broad support for reforming our immigration system and bringing the roughly eleven million people here illegally out of the shadows.

First up, there’s a Gallup poll that shows broad support for many of the proposals being discussed by the President and others:

PRINCETON, NJ — At least two-thirds of Americans favor each of five specific measures designed to address immigration issues — ranging from 68% who would vote for increased government spending on security measures and enforcement at U.S. borders, to 85% who would vote for a requirement that employers verify the immigration status of all new hires. More than seven in 10 would vote for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants now living in this country.

Slightly more than seven in 10 favor a law that would track the departures of foreigners who have come into the country and one that would increase the number of visas for immigrants with science and technology skills.

The debate over passage of new immigration reform legislation is heating up ahead of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address next week, in which he is expected to push for a number of changes in the ways the U.S. deals with immigration. Obama is meeting with leaders in the White House on Tuesday to discuss legislation. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is presenting his ideas on immigration on Tuesday in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, and both Senate and House leaders are working on immigration reform measures. Democrats and Republicans appear to be in general agreement on doing something about immigration, but — as is usually the case in Washington — the two sides differ on some of the specifics.

Here’s how the numbers break down:

Gallup 1

Interestingly, even a majority of Republicans support a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants, and there’s is broad bipartisan support for the other proposals polled:

Gallup 2


Additionally, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds strong support for President Obama on immigration issues and, once again, majority support for a path to citizenship:

Americans have given President Obama a major ratings boost on immigration as he andCongress debate the biggest immigration reforms in decades, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

By 49 to 43 percent, slightly more Americans now approve than disapprove of Obama on immigration. In July, Obama was deep underwater, with just 38 percent offering positive ratings and 52 percent negative.

Even after the shift, though, Obama’s immigration marks continue to trail his overall approval rating, which stood at 55 percent in a January Post-ABC poll.

What is significant, though, is that this is a definite change from the last three years, during which a majority has disapprove of the way the President has handled the issue of immigration:



To a large degree, of course, the change in Obama’s approval levels on this issue are likely tied to the general direction of his overall job approval numbers. For the better part of the period from 2010 until just before the election, those numbers fluctuated within a very small range that usually tended toward disapproval most of the time with the exception of limited periods like the immediate aftermath of the bin Laden raid. Now that the President’s approval numbers in general have improved, it’s not entirely surprising that his numbers in specific policy areas have also improved.

At the same time, though, it’s noteworthy that the public is expressing broad support for most of the major elements of the various immigration reform plans being talked about on Capitol Hill right now. It suggests that the Democrats, as well as Republicans such as Marco Rubio who are pushing for immigration reform, have the advantage going into what is likely to be a contentious debate, and that Republicans who might be on the fence about this issue wouldn’t be taking as big a political risk as they think if they vote in favor of reform.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Public Opinion Polls, Science & Technology, 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. Rafer Janders says:

    The comment I always make: fine, but what about a “path to citizenship” (which involves, first, a path to a green card/permanent residency) for legal immigrants?

    Because right now, we don’t necessarily have one. Many work/student/family visas are time limited, and eventually the visa holder has to leave the country, or can only stay on temporary sufferance. There is not always a way to convert a temporary visa into permanent residency and/or citizenship. If we’re going to offer illegal immigrants the ability to stay and become citizens, we should at least offer the same opportunity to all those here long-term on legitimate visas.

  2. Rob in CT says:

    Majority support for recognizing reality, yes. But the devil’s in the details. Even setting aside Rafer’s point (which I think is valid), there’s the question of what the pathway looks like, who qualifies, etc.

    We’ll see how support holds up when push comes to shove. When there is a concrete proposal on the table. When the attack ads run.

    We’ll see.

  3. mantis says:

    Interesting how increased border security, while still having healthy majority support, is among the least supported laws/policies in the poll.

    I wonder what the people who insist we need a 50-ft high electrified wall and a moat of lava before we can do anything about immigration think of that.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    This just in…the American people are very reasonable…the Republican Congressional Caucus…not so much.

  5. john personna says:

    Work visas for agricultural workers?

    If you don’t do that you set up for owners rooting for lax border security etc.

    Either that or you do bankrupt some orchards, etc.

  6. Gromitt Gunn says:

    In terms of employment verification, what I would like to see is the onus put on employers, and to have that onus have real teeth.

  7. Sandman says:

    We just can’t make it an incentive to come here illegally.

  8. superdestroyer says:

    Since on one was asked about any negative effects, is it really surprising that most people support such a benign sounding idea. I wonder how many support the idea of the U.S. becoming a one party state or that the income levels of STEM degree holders going down, or that unemployment will go up? I wonder how many people would tell a pollster that the support their local public schools spending more money on English as a Second Language and less on AP classes for high school students.

  9. john personna says:


    The bottom half of any STEM pool opposes new talent, it is true.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    Yes, I wonder whether the answers would be different if the questions were posed in such a way as to incorporate all of superdestroyer’s paranoid fantasies as if they were facts.

    We should do that with all polling. For example, we could have JKB’s gun control polling: Do you support taking people’s guns away so that they are vulnerable to the jackbooted oppression of government thugs and/or the complete breakdown of law and order in an inevitable race war?

    Or we could have the Tsar Nicky question. Meh, what thing would you short if issues and/or parties were stocks?

  11. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I find it odd that someone who lives in a state that has been adversely affected by a massive number of illegal aliens believes that the snark is the answer.

    Once again, progressives refuse to face reality when reality does not meet their preconceived notions of the world.

  12. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Yes, I wonder whether the answers would be different if the questions were posed in such a way as to incorporate all of superdestroyer’s paranoid fantasies as if they were facts.

    I’m sure all his friends on Stormfront would be happy to take that poll.

  13. superdestroyer says:


    I find it odd that a poll is made that implies that there is no external costs to comprehensive immigration reform would get a lot of support.

    Of course, the real question is are there any costs to comprehensive immigration reform. Since no one seems to be willing to discus it, I suspect that the costs will be high and that anyone who notices will be called a racist.

  14. superdestroyer says:

    @john personna:

    Thank you for once again confirming that progressives think that middle class whites who work in the private sector are losers and fools. I guess that to progressives, anyone who did not attend an Ivy League university and works in DC/NYC/Boston/SF is a loser and should commit suicide.

  15. Rob in CT says:

    We call you a racist because you clearly are one, supertrooper. Not because you question the wisdom of a given policy.

    It’s because in any discussion, you boil things down to racial essentialism. You’ve demonstrated, over the course of hundreds (thousands?) of posts, over the course of years, that you believe that certain demographic groups are *intrinsically* more prone to a variety of maladies (crime, poor test scores, voting for Democrats…). You ignore other factors in favor of coming back, over and over, to racial essentialism. THAT’s why you get called a racist. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck = probably a goddamned duck.

    In this case, an extremely whiney duck with a persecution complex.

  16. Mikey says:

    @superdestroyer: I didn’t attend an Ivy League university. In fact, it took me 20 years and seven different colleges to finish my Bachelor’s–military service will do that sometimes.

    I will plead guilty to working in the DC area, although prior to that I lived in the Detroit area, and prior to that, wherever the Air Force sent me.

    I’m as “middle class white” as it’s possible to be, I think. And I see no problem at all with the proposed reforms.

    Then again, my focus isn’t “how will this hurt white people,” it’s on “how can we move a whole lot of people who are already here on a path toward assimilation.”

  17. Al says:

    Maybe, and this is just me talking crazy here, we should all just STOP FEEDING THE RACIST TROLL?

  18. john personna says:

    With apologies to Al, let me say that in my engineering career (begun at a cheap state uni) I never saw good, working engineers, people in the groove, worry about immigration. In fact, our peers were often immigrants. We went to lunch. We had a grand old time.

    Recently the shift went from immigrants to outsourced labor, in places like Russia and the Philippines. Let’s note that anti-immigration arguments often have that secondary effect. I remember that Microsoft set up a research center in Vancouver specifically because it was easier to get visas for everyone there.

    So you know, in the really simple view an Indian engineer in Nevada is bad, and Indian call center is the free market at work.

    (Similarly if grapefruit are to expensive to harvest in California, we’ll just import more Mexican grapefruit.)

  19. Stan says:

    @Al: He’s not a racist troll. He’s actually an undercover operative of the Democratic National Committee tasked with discrediting conservative arguments by casting them in an offensive and exaggerated form. During the presidential campaign he was one of Donald Trump’s speechwriters, and before that he ghosted the last three Ann Coulter books.

  20. legion says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Even setting aside Rafer’s point (which I think is valid), there’s the question of what the pathway looks like, who qualifies, etc.

    They can have citizenship when they promise to vote Republican forever.

    You think I’m kidding…

  21. legion says:


    Thank you for once again confirming that progressives think that middle class whites who work in the private sector are losers and fools.

    No, SD. Just you.

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  23. grumpy realist says:

    In keeping with my name, I’m not that hot on increasing the H-1 visa limit. Making it easier for those who are here, definitely. But my experience is that employers don’t want to pay for engineers or scientists.

  24. john personna says:

    @grumpy realist:

    FWIW I have seen the opposite, companies that used a high salary history to filter for quality. I thought that too was harsh but there it is. High pay as a requirement.

  25. superdestroyer says:

    @john personna:

    But if high pay is limited to the Ivy Leaguers and the Ivy-likes, then it becomes a self=fulfilling prophecy. In labor economics, high pay is a function of payroll being a small part of the total costs along with the supply. That is why petroleum engineers are very high paid but elementary school teachers are not.

    In the long run, flooding the country with third world STEM graduates at the same time that the Defense Department is beginning massive cut backs and healthcare is on the glidepath to becoming smaller, will lead to higher unemloyment and lower pay for most Americans. Progressives do not really care anymore because it does not see STEM as a career field that Americans who are not loser should pursue.

  26. Mikey says:


    But if high pay is limited to the Ivy Leaguers and the Ivy-likes

    Good thing it’s not, then.

  27. Erik says:

    The title of this article is “Polls Find Majority Support For Path To Citizenship For Illegal Immigrants”.

    But then I looked at that first table of % results for the Gallup poll. The actual question refers to “the chance to become legal residents or citizens”.

    So people supporting a path to citizenship are not the only ones who would give a favorable “Vote For” response. People who oppose any path to citizenship, but feel those immigrants should be allowed to stay in the USA either temporarily or permanently, would also give a favorable “Vote For” response.

    It seems like the author of this article misrepresented what the poll asked about.

    Am I not understanding this correctly?