Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Most Americans now say: "Let them stay"

According to the latest Pew Research Center survey, Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2009, 63% of Americans now favor some sort of path towards legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in our midst. Here are the survey's findings on immigration-related questions:

Immigration Policy

The public continues to overwhelmingly support limiting the number of immigrants entering the country, and a slight majority agrees that “the growing number of newcomers from other countries threaten traditional American customs and values.”

Nonetheless, most Americans (63%) say they favor providing a way for illegal immigrants currently in the country to gain legal citizenship if they pass background checks, pay fines and have jobs. The proportion favoring such a proposal has ticked upward, from 58% in December 2007.

Support for providing citizenship for illegal immigrants, if they pay fines and meet other conditions, has increased sharply among those ages 30 to 49 (by 16 points), Democrats (11 points) and college graduates (10 points). Among Republicans, half favor giving illegal immigrants a way to become citizens under these circumstances, compared with 56% in 2007.

The change among Democrats has come entirely among the party’s moderates and conservatives: 70% currently support a way to provide citizenship for illegal immigrants under certain conditions, up from 53% in December 2007. As in 2007, more liberal Democrats than conservatives and moderates in the party support this idea (82% in 2009 and 83% in 2007), but the ideological gap among Democrats has narrowed.

Most Want Tighter Immigration Controls

Currently, 73% agree that “we should restrict and control people coming to live in our country more than we do now,” which is little changed from recent values surveys; just 23% disagree with the goal of limiting the flow of newcomers to the United States.

While overall opinions about this issue have changed only modestly in recent years, fewer Democrats agree with this statement than did so in 2007 (64% now, 74% in 2007). By contrast, slightly more independents believe there should be greater restrictions on people coming to live in the United States; 77% say that now, up from 72% two years ago. As a result, the gap between Democrats and independents on this issue, which was negligible in recent values surveys, is now 13 points. Slightly more than eight-in-ten Republicans (83%) favor greater restrictions on immigrants, which is little changed from previous surveys. People in the youngest age group – those younger than 30 –are less likely than older people to say that there should be greater restrictions on people entering this country.

There is an even bigger – and growing – age difference in views about the impact that immigrants have on traditional American values. Currently, 35% of those younger than 30 believe that the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values. That compares with 50% of those 30 to 49, 57% of those 50 to 64 and nearly two-thirds (65%) of those 65 and older. The gap between the youngest and oldest age groups on this issue, which had narrowed to 11 points in the 2007 values survey, has approximately tripled, to 30 points.

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