Sunday, October 29, 2017


I looked for surveys that were relevant to the issues discussed in my last post, and found one sponsored by CNN and conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation in 2010.  It included a series of questions on whether people favored or opposed:

a. Building a 700-mile long fence on the border with Mexico
b. Creating a program that would allow illegal immigrants already living in the United States for a number of years to stay here and apply to legally remain in this country permanently if they had a job and paid back taxes
c. Imposing fines of tens of thousands of dollars on employers who hire illegal immigrants
d. Sending employers who hire illegal immigrants to jail 
e. Putting more Border Patrol and federal law enforcement agents on the U.S. border with Mexico

The distribution of opinions:

                            Favor        Oppose     Mixed/DK
Fence                    45%           55%          1%
Stay                       83%          17%           0%
Fines                     62%           38%           1%
Jail                        41%           59%           0%
Border                   78%           21%           0%

The survey also contained a series of questions asking about whether certain statements apply to immigrants moving here in the past ten years:

a. Are basically good, honest people (82% say yes)
b. Add to the crime problem (58% yes)
c. Take jobs away from Americans  (52% yes)
d. Are hard-working (87% yes) 
e. Are a burden on American taxpayers (65% yes)

Questions a, c, d, and e from the first group all involve enforcement of immigration laws.  If you add them together to get an index of support for more vigorous enforcement and regress them on the views of immigrants, all have a statistically significant relationship except the first.  That is, there is no evidence that whether or not people think most immigrants are "basically good, honest people has any connection to support for stronger enforcement (the t-ratio is about 0.4) of policies against illegal immigration.  If you regress the "path to citizenship" question (b) from the first series on the same views of immigrants, "basically good, honest people" has a significant relationship (t=3.2), and appears to be the second or third strongest predictor, depending on how you measure.  That is, views of the character of immigrants matter for opinions about whether they should be allowed to stay, but not (or not nearly as much) for opinions about stronger enforcement of the immigration laws.  This pattern illustrates a point I've made before, which is that there are (at least) two immigration issues, and that people who favor stronger enforcement of immigration laws are not necessarily "anti-immigrant" in a general sense.

I didn't find any survey questions that directly involved rights to immigrate or exclude immigrats, but an opinion piece appeared in the New York Times today (it's been online for a few days) about unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America and trying to enter the United States.  There are currently about 350 reader comments, and I looked at the ten most liked ones.   None of the them questioned the individual accounts or said that they represented only a small fraction of illegal immigrants. Nine offered some variant of "the United States can't (or doesn't have an obligation) to take in everyone"--the other one said that Mexico was the closest neighbor, so they had the primary responsibility to help.  Although the most liked comments have no value as a measure of the general distribution of opinions, I think they say something about how people explain the opinions they have. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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