In December 2005 the U.S. House of Representatives passed an immigration bill that aimed to toughen border enforcement and make illegal immigrants liable to criminal prosecution. From mid-March to May 1, immigrant rights advocates, churches, unions and others groups organized marches in dozens of cities to protest the House bill and to seek legal status for unauthorized migrants. In late March, the U.S. Senate took up the immigration issue. It eventually passed a compromise bill that included some stepped-up enforcement measures and a legalization program whose greatest benefits would go to unauthorized migrants who have been in the country for at least five years. Meanwhile, President George W. Bush pressed throughout the spring for immigration reform, particularly his proposed guest worker program.
To explore the impact of these events on Latino public opinion, as well as other topics that will be presented in subsequent reports, the Pew Hispanic Center conducted the 2006 National Survey of Latinos. The survey included both new questions that relate specifically to recent events and questions that have appeared on previous surveys by the Center to chart changes in attitudes over time. Interviews were conducted from June 5 to July 3, a period that followed the last of the major marches and congressional votes and preceded the round of field hearings conducted by committees of both chambers of Congress this summer.
The survey was conducted by telephone and has a sample of 2,000 Latino adults who had the option to respond in Spanish, English or a combination of the two languages. The sample was drawn using Random Digit Dialing (RDD) methodology and was stratified according to density of Hispanic population and country of origin groups. The sampling design produced an over-sample of Latinos of Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central and South American origins to allow for an analysis of differences in attitudes and experiences among those groups. As a result, both Latinos of Mexican origin and native-born Latinos in effect were somewhat under-sampled, although the survey produced a robust number of respondents in both these categories.
Results were weighted controlling for age within sex, gender, education, country of origin, and foreign/native born status, using 2005 Current Population Survey data. The full sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8. The margin of error for native-born respondents (N=569) is +/-6.55. The margin of error for foreign-born respondents (N=1,429) is +/-4.35. Fieldwork was conducted by International Communications Research (ICR) of Media, Pa. (See Appendix A for a detailed discussion of the survey methodology).
The 2006 National Survey of Latinos found that the marches and policy debate have had a clear impact on Hispanic public opinion and that a majority of Latinos see direct consequences from those events.
Attitudes toward the Latino population as a group, particularly in the extent to which the population acts in concert on a common political agenda, are heightened in comparison to prior surveys. Most Latinos see the immigration marches as the beginning of a social movement with staying power and say they would participate in a future march.
Most Hispanics see the immigration marches as the beginning of a social movement
Meanwhile, compared with prior surveys, a larger share of Latinos now sees discrimination as a major problem for Latinos as a group. And a majority believes that the immigration policy debate has prompted greater discrimination. Three out of four Latinos believe that many more Latinos will vote in the elections in November as a result of the debate, a view held equally among the native and foreign born, those who are registered to vote and those who are not.
There are other possible indications of the impact of the events. In this survey, native-born Latinos express somewhat more favorable views toward immigrants on two issues that the Pew Hispanic Center has probed repeatedly in prior surveys: A greater share of native-born Latinos (45%) now favors increasing the number of legal immigrants from Latin America, and the share saying illegal immigrants help the economy (72%) is bit higher than the trend evident in surveys going back to 2002.
More native-born Latinos now favor increasing the number of legal immigrants from Latin America
Despite the strong majorities that agree on many points, several variations in opinion among sub-groups of the Hispanic population emerge from the survey. As is often the case in polls of Latinos, some of the clearest differences are between Latinos born in the United States and those born elsewhere. The native born, for example, are more likely than the foreign born to say the policy debate has heightened discrimination, but they are less likely to say they would participate in a future march. Differences also emerge among Latinos of different national origins. Hispanics of Cuban descent and to a lesser extent those of Puerto Rican origin stand out as being less likely to ascribe consequences to the marches and the policy debate compared with Latinos of Mexican origin.
The survey shows there are areas where the marches and debate have not had an obvious impact, particularly in political viewpoints. For example, attitudes toward the two major political parties do not demonstrate a significant and consistent shift compared with prior surveys. Although the restrictive measures that have provoked a negative reaction among most Latinos are associated with the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, the Republican Party shows no significant slippage in party affiliation among Latino registered voters compared with surveys conducted since 1999. In fact, affiliation with the Democratic Party seems to have eroded over time. Other measures show no change in registered voters’ opinions of the two parties. To the extent that Republicans have suffered losses, they are most significant among Latino immigrants who are not citizens and are focused on the party’s handling of immigration.