A few days ago, an article in the New York Times by Amanda Taub said that working-class support for Donald Trump reflected a "crisis of white identity." Today, Ross Douthat said that it reflected the "thinning out of families." The basic idea in both was that "working class" (ie less educated people's) opposition to immigration is a symptom of anxiety about something else.
In September 1957, the days of the baby boom and the "affluent society," when unions were strong and no one was talking about a crisis of white identity or masculinity, the Gallup Poll asked "UNDER THE PRESENT IMMIGRATION LAWS, THE HUNGARIAN REFUGEES WHO CAME TO THIS COUNTRY AFTER THE REVOLTS LAST YEAR HAVE NO PERMANENT RESIDENCE AND CAN BE DEPORTED AT ANY TIME. DO YOU THINK THE LAW SHOULD OR SHOULD NOT BE CHANGED SO THAT THESE REFUGEES CAN STAY HERE PERMANENTLY?"
42% said yes, and 43% said no.
In July 1958, another Gallup Poll asked "IN EUROPE THERE ARE STILL ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY THOUSAND REFUGEES WHO LEFT HUNGARY TO ESCAPE THE COMMUNISTS. IT HAS BEEN SUGGESTED THAT THE U.S. PERMIT SIXTY-FIVE THOUSAND OF THESE PEOPLE TO COME TO THIS COUNTRY. WOULD YOU APPROVE OR DISAPPROVE OF THIS PLAN?"
33% approved and 55% disapproved
With both questions, education made a difference for opinions. For example, in 1958, 55% of the people with a college degree favored letting the refugees come to the United States, compared to 31% of those without college degrees. The only other demographic factor that made a clear difference was that Jews were more likely to favor letting the refugees stay.
The 1957 survey also had a question about the Brown vs. Board of Education decision against school segregation--people who approved were more likely to favor letting the refugees stay. The 1958 survey had a series of questions about whether you would vote for various religious or racial minorities for president--people who were more tolerant were more likely to favor letting the refugees come to the United States.
The Hungarian refugees were white, Christian, and could be seen as part of a clear story of oppression vs. resistance. Despite this, most people, especially less educated people, were not in favor of letting them stay in the United States. So the contemporary opposition to immigration, and the tendency for it to be stronger among less educated people, are not a reflection of something specific to today, but continue a long-standing pattern. Of course, an increase in the number of immigrants today presumably makes the issue more important. But the basic pattern is not new.
[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]