Distorted Polling Disguises Americans’ Immigration Concerns

Published on August 29th, 2016

By Joe Guzzardi
August 29, 2016
Between today and the November election, immigration will continue to be a point of major disagreement between the two presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton wants expansive immigration while Donald Trump prefers a more restrictive approach.
In its recent Social Service Series polling, Gallup measured how the American public views immigration. The poll’s findings were unsurprising: 38 percent of Americans want immigration levels decreased, a total that’s similar to every year since 2012; 21 percent want immigration increased, and three times as many Republicans as Democrats want less immigration.
Whites are slightly more likely than Hispanics to want less immigration while blacks represent the demographic that’s least likely to want lower immigration. The 12 percent of the survey’s foreign-born immigrant respondents are less likely to want immigration decreased than are those who have been in the U.S. for at least two generations, 26 percent vs. 40 percent, respectively. Gallup's question about possible changes in immigration volume didn’t specify legal or illegal. Theoretically, respondents could be taking both into account when they answer.
While Gallup’s findings are consistent with what most political analysts would expect, the poll’s questions are so vague that more meaningful answers are impossible to give. Take, for example, the first question: “In your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased or decreased?”
Omitted is the crucial information that the “present level” is one million legal immigrants each year. The one million total, an average that’s been consistent for two decades, is significantly higher than most Americans realize, and if the number were revealed, it would likely change the answers of at least some of the 21 percent including Democrats from in favor of increasing immigration to being in favor of decreasing immigration.
Second question: “On the whole, do you think immigration is good thing or a bad thing for this country today?” Again, the question has no frame of reference. Adding one million work authorized legal immigrants each year into an economy that has more than 92 million Americans detached from the labor force would strike most poll participants as hurtful to job seekers. Using the one million legal immigrants per year average and applying it to the past two decades during which it has been a constant means that 20 million overseas workers, exclusive of guest workers, have joined the U.S. labor pool. But Gallup’s question makes no reference to what immigration’s real life consequences might lead to.
Another variable that Gallup omitted from its question about whether Americans want “immigration kept at its current level” is its effect on population growth. According to the Pew Research Center, since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, nearly 60 million immigrants have been added to the U.S. population. Pew calculates that if the current demographic trends—what Gallup calls “immigration levels”—continue, then between 2015 and 2065, an additional 103 million immigrants will live in America. The U.S.’s total population will grow from the current 324 million to 441 million with immigration accounting for 88 percent of the increase.
If Gallup had conducted more honest polling, it would have generated different results which would better reflect the nation’s cautionary mood about immigration. What America really needs is an immigration time out that will benefit workers and help stabilize the U.S. population.

A Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow, Joe can be reached at [email protected] and found on Twitter @joeguzzardi19

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