GW Data Highlights U.S. Voters’ Favorable Attitudes toward Undocumented Immigrants

A majority of those polled said they are family oriented and fill jobs Americans don’t want.

GW Battleground Poll report
New GW Battleground Poll report finds most U.S. voters view undocumented immigrants favorably. (Photo Courtesy of NCLR/Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition)
July 27, 2015

By James Irwin

Most U.S. voters hold favorable attitudes toward undocumented immigrants, according to data and analysis released Thursday by the George Washington University.

“Broad Sympathies and Borderline Myths”—a report made public Thursday at a press briefing hosted by the National Council of La Raza—finds most American voters have positive views of undocumented immigrants when it comes to their character, motivation and impact on the nation. The data was compiled in a recent GW Battleground Poll of 1,000 registered voters May 3-6 with a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent.

Of those polled, 71 percent agreed that undocumented immigrants are “family and community oriented,” and 67 percent agreed they are “filling jobs Americans don’t want.” A majority disagreed that undocumented immigrants “threaten our traditional American culture” (56 percent) and “are ‘cheaters’ here just to help themselves” (59 percent).

The analysis was authored by Graduate School of Political Management faculty members Michael Cornfield, Christopher Arterton and Jamie Chandler. Based on the data, most American voters have positive views of undocumented immigrants, said Dr. Cornfield, GSPM associate professor and research director of the Global Center for Political Engagement.

“Among American voters today, there is a substantial, multidimensional and widespread favorable attitude toward undocumented immigrants,” he said. “Political strategists and policymakers should take these majority attitudes into serious consideration.”

Thursday marked the first day of a weekend-long annual conference at NCLR, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. The organization facilitated a panel discussion of Dr. Cornfield, NCLR immigration expert Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, Wilson Center public policy scholar Edward Schumacher-Matos, and Republican consultant Katie Packer.

Ms. Packer, who served as Mitt Romney’s deputy campaign manager, recently released a study of GOP primary voters in early-vote states and general election voters in swing states. An immigration policy that provides undocumented immigrants methods for achieving legal status, combined with stronger border security, resonates with conservative voters, according to the study.

“This combination of accountability and compassion is the sweet spot for a majority of American voters,” Ms. Packer said.

Immigration has continued to be a political lightning rod. In November, President Barack Obama issued an executive order offering temporary legal status to millions of illegal immigrants. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has created a firestorm in the early days of his campaign seeking the Republican nomination for president, alleging the Mexican government is sending its criminals to the United States.

A July 16-19 Washington Post/ABC News poll finds the majority of Americans disagree with Mr. Trump’s statements. So, too, does the data and analysis in “Broad Sympathies and Borderline Myths,” Ms. Martínez-De-Castro said.

Mr. Trump’s rhetoric amounts to fear mongering, Mr. Schumacher-Matos said Thursday.

“We have seen Donald Trump-types throughout American history make such vile comments, and for a while it appeals to people's fears,” he said. “In the 19th century, it appealed to a populist movement that proudly called itself the ‘Know-Nothings’ and who accused Irish Catholic immigrants of being ape-like and criminals. But sooner or later, as this poll shows, the vast majority of Americans catch on.”