Where is the public on immigration?

What we know about the public’s attitudes toward immigration, nativism, and the politics of it all.

The author(s)
  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Sarah Feldman Editorial Director, US, Public Affairs
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Immigration is a perennial and divisive issue in American politics. Our latest polling with NPR demonstrates just how true that is.

As the midterms approach, the misinformation and the heated political rhetoric surrounding immigration seem to be resonating with the public.

But why is that? How did we get here? In short, populism and the persistent feeling many Americans have that the system is broken are creating the political ingredients that drive some of this sentiment. This is our context.

That and more below in five charts, looking at immigration, nativism, and the politics of it all in the U.S.

  1. Immigration then and now. In the first part of the 21st century, immigrants are increasingly making up a larger portion of the total U.S. population. The late 19th century and early 20th century were the last time immigrants made up a similar share of the U.S. population. Nativism grew in prominence then, just as it does now.immigration over time
  2. Who is America? Even as immigrants are making up a larger portion of Americans, fewer Americans feel immigrants are an important part of American identity. This is true regardless of party. Independents and Republicans saw the most notable drop over the past four years, though the dip among Democrats is also significant.Who is America
  3. System remains broken. Despite a new presidential administration, a pandemic, a recession, and inflation, all these things haven’t swayed the fundamental context Americans feel the country exists within--the system is broken. Populism underpins this moment.System is broken
  4. Invasion? The populist currents running through the public frame how people feel about borders and their security. Right now, many Americans feel that the U.S. is experiencing an invasion at the southern border. Half of Hispanics and a majority of white respondents feel this way. Though, this opinion is most pronounced among Republicans.Populism
  5. Not a monolith. Hispanic Americans, many of whom report experiencing xenophobic comments, are split on whether it is more important to help immigrants escape poverty and violence and find success in the U.S. or secure America’s borders. Partisanship drives opinion here as it does for the general public. A tale of two Americas—one Red, the other one Blue.Not a monolith

Immigration is a culture war topic that brings out some of our most divisive rhetoric and tendencies. Populism and nativism are the cultural currents framing this topic and this moment. This is not new in American politics.

Immigration is an issue that is unlikely to fade away anytime soon.

The author(s)
  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Sarah Feldman Editorial Director, US, Public Affairs