June 11, 2014

Tea Partiers are not all immigration hawks

FT_14.06.11_CantorImmigration (2)One of the storylines coming out of last night’s surprise loss by Republican Rep. Eric Cantor was that the immigration issue was a major point of weakness for the House majority leader. More specifically, Cantor’s relatively conservative stance on immigration reform was viewed as not conservative enough for the Tea Party base within his party.

Yet a Pew Research Center survey, conducted Jan. 23-Feb. 9, shows that most Americans favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, though there are partisan and ideological differences over the issue. Nationwide, 76% say people currently in the country illegally should be eligible for citizenship if they meet certain requirements, and just 23% disagree. Among Republicans, that majority slips to 66% vs. 32%. And narrowing further to Republicans who agree with the Tea Party still finds a 59% majority in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and 39% opposed.

FT_tea-party-immigration-oppositionThere is an intensity of opinion among immigration reform opponents that provides important context: Opponents of immigration reform see the issue in stark terms. When asked a follow-up question, most of those who oppose a route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants go a step further and say there should be a national law enforcement effort to deport all immigrants who are now living in the U.S. illegally. Nationwide, 17% of Americans hold this view, including 25% of Republicans and 31% of Tea Party Republicans.

The relatively low turnout in party primaries is another key factor, and the most active Republicans tend to be more conservative across a wide range of issues. But these differences are modest. Roughly a third of Republicans tell us that they always vote in the congressional primaries in their district. These consistent GOP primary voters support a path to citizenship by 62% to 36%. Most of the opponents – though just 29% of GOP primary voters overall – favor deportation.

What’s the prevailing view on immigration among Tea Party Republicans who “always vote”? This is certainly the most conservative segment of the public on the immigration issue, but even here the issue divides, rather than unifies. Tea Party primary voters are divided 52%-46% over whether they support or oppose a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, with 37% saying they would go so far as to support a national effort to deport.


Nationwide, the trend over the past 20 years has been toward embracing immigrants, not rejecting them. Since 1994, we’ve asked people whether immigrants “are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care” or “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents,” and the trend has been decidedly toward the latter. Currently, 57% see immigrants as a benefit to the nation, and just 35% a burden. Ten years ago, opinion was divided (45% strengthen, 44% burden), and in 1994 opinion ran the other direction (31% strengthen, 63% burden).

Democrats, once deeply divided in their views of immigrants, today have increasingly positive views of them. Republicans, who were negative toward immigrants 20 years ago and were divided a decade ago, remain divided today.

So did Eric Cantor lose his seat over his immigration views yesterday? It’s not clear what specific or general message Virginia voters were sending to Washington.

But the survey finds that nationally only a minority of Republican voters take a hard-line stance on this issue. Immigration may well have been a symbol of a larger concern among some Republicans about the direction of the nation, and how much Republican leaders should compromise on important national issues.

More broadly, the data show why legislative action on immigration reform continues to face a difficult path. While the balance of public opinion – across party lines – favors immigration reform of some sort, the intensity of feeling among those who are opposed creates a strong roadblock to action.

Topics: Unauthorized Immigration, Immigration Attitudes

  1. Photo of Michael Dimock

    is the president of Pew Research Center.


  1. JIm3 years ago

    I’m a believer in the rule of law. I’m also a believer in immigration reform. We need immigration to grow economically but we also need to keep our American ideals.
    I agree with Pat Buchanan, “A moratorium on all immigration until unemployment among U.S. citizens falls below five percent. A 15-foot security fence from San Diego to the Gulf, with Border Patrol outposts every 10 miles. Fines and community service for businessmen who hire illegal aliens.”
    The conundrum is what to do with illegals already here. It isn’t as simple as send the all back as some would believe. Known convicted felons should be deported immediately. For the rest, stiff fines and a “back of the line” policy for those wishing citizenship is a reasonable and practical punishment for breaking the law.
    There is a lot to like about the 2013 Senate bill but it is too big. The five major parts should be considered separately (individual bills) after they have been simplified to be understandable by illegals, law-inforcement, Congress and the general public.

  2. sonofimmigrants3 years ago

    First of all let’s not mix illegals in with the legal immigrants.
    The idea that opponents are against any immigrants is a straw man arguement.
    Illegals are not all hard working self supporting individuals as evidenced by the numbers in Federal prison. Also the young and the elderly are a drain on services and since the majority will fall below the 50 percentile in household income not only will they not pay income taxes the will surely get earned income tax credits and does anyone doubt they will receive social benefits?
    They will not and don’t have to assimilate.(press 2 anyone?)
    The idea thatthey will grow the economy is preposterous. Are they not spending any money now? Legalize them and they will spend more? Hardly.
    Temporary guest workers will have children and become permanent residents.
    I can go on and on but this country is doomed.

  3. Lyn3 years ago

    There is no wall high enough to keep out these extremely desperate people. As long as the poorest of the poor can get a job somewhere in the U.S., they will come. Part of the solution: grant work visas and ARREST any one who hires an illegal immigrant. After a few CEOs and housewives are jailed, we might see a decrease in available jobs.

    1. Cynthia Curran3 years ago

      Actually, they have declined from 56 percent of the Latin workforce in 2007 to about 49 percent. Mexican birth rates are heading to below 2.0 except in some rural states which means less young people. Outside of some farming or construction or some service work there is no reason to have high levels of immigration. Mexico is less desperate than the Central American countries. I agree fine the companies that hired them which few of the politicians want to do. Baja California has a birth rate of only 1.7 which might happen to the rest of Mexico. Some service work like fast food might become more automated if minium wage goes up in states like California less immigrants to do those jobs as kiosks come in.

  4. slk3 years ago

    “T”axed “E”nough “A”lready!!! allow anyone with a clean record, and will work, to get on line, with other immigrants!!! anyone with a police record goes back home!!! anyone looking for a handout, go home!!! this way, jobs will be filled because too many Americans think they deserve more!!! let the immigrants get the lower waged jobs, and after some time passes, and they’ve moved on to higher levels, those Americans can get their jobs back!!! i didn’t grow up, dreaming of making it big, by flippin’ burgers, why should anyone else!!!

  5. Chip3 years ago

    First CONTROL the borders, then establish reasonable requirements for citizenship with those who’ve legally applied on top of the list, then those who’ve worked here legally without breaking any significant laws and not to include any of these youngsters who have been rushed in here lately (thanks to dictatorial o’bummer). Leave emotions out of it – they’re only a tool used by the left.
    Favor those who can contribute and want to become good English-speaking citizens.
    Let’s get real !!