PRRI/Brookings Survey, Part 3 – Immigration

 Only 6% of Americans think our immigration system is working. Almost 70% think it has major problems, and over 25% think it is completely broken. Nearly 80% of Republicans condemn the system, versus less than half of Democrats. But the devil is in the details.


The survey asked about immigration from specific regions: “In recent years, do you think the number of immigrants coming from the following places has been…? about right; too many; should not be allowed to come. (There was also an option for “too low,” but apart from Christian or European immigrants that response was negligible.)

Regarding Africa, over 60% thought we were letting in about the right number of immigrants. Less than 20% thought we were letting in too many. Results for Asia were similar, though slightly more negative. Again, over 60% thought we were letting in about the right number, but almost 25% thought we were letting in too many Asians. The two worst-rated regions were “Predominantly Muslim Countries” and “the Middle East”; they were basically equated. Over a third of Americans thought we let too many in, and roughly 15% thought we shouldn’t let any in.

Only about 10% thought we were letting in too many Europeans. But the top-rated category was “Predominantly Christian Countries.” Over two-thirds approved of our admission policy for Christians, and only 10% thought we were letting in too many.

Only 40% thought we were letting in the right number of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, while over 45% thought we were letting in too many – the most negative of any category, including Muslims. Even if you combine the two negative categories – letting in too many and banning them entirely—Mexicans and Central Americans were disliked even more than Muslims.

But Mexicans and Central Americans are overwhelmingly Christian, much more so than Europeans. Apparently Americans only welcome white Christians. Asians are probably the least Christian, at least of the non-Muslim countries, yet Americans view them much more favorably than Mexicans. This is not general xenophobia. It is targeted.

With regard to Muslims, there is a great fear of terrorism. Over half of Americans are concerned that they or their family may become victims of a terrorist attack. Remarkably, this is nearly 20 points higher than in 2014. But even in 2014, fear was out of all proportion to the actual risk.

The previous article discussed Americans’ nostalgia for the 1950’s. I suspect this reflects, at least in part, the large white majority of that era. The study found that nearly 60% of white Americans agree that “Today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.” Roughly 70% of Republicans and evangelicals agree with this claim. Perhaps they don’t feel that discrimination against blacks and other minorities constitutes a problem.

The report notes that respondents’ perceptions do not always correspond to reality:

While the Obama administration has actually increased deportations compared to the Bush years,only 25% of Americans believe that the number of illegal immigrants being deported over the past five or six years has increased. About half (46%) of the public believe the number of illegal immigrants being deported has stayed about the same, and 26% believe deportations have decreased.

The survey never asks for perceptions about the numbers of immigrants from different regions or their characteristics. I suspect these perceptions also differ markedly from the facts.