Where Americans Stand on Immigration: A Hidden Common Ground Report

August 12, 2020

This report explores the views and values of the American public on immigration, including how much change people think the immigration system needs, their goals and priorities for changing it, and their views on various proposals for doing so. Drawing on a Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos national survey of American adults and four focus groups, the report’s main findings include:

  1. Americans across the political spectrum agree on several aspects of immigration policy, including creating a path to citizenship for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children; quickly and fairly processing people who enter the U.S. illegally; enforcing border security; and welcoming immigrants who are skilled, financially secure or escaping war. While Americans differ on whether to create a path to citizenship for people who came illegally as adults, they share a discomfort with allowing undocumented immigrants who fail to pay taxes or commit crimes to stay in the U.S.
  2. Democrats and Independents consistently favor more welcoming immigration policies, while Republicans and apolitical people tend to express mixed or ambivalent views. For example, Democrats and Independents strongly support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants while Republicans and apolitical people express different views on a path to citizenship depending on how they are asked. Republicans and apolitical people also express mixed opinions on whether to welcome low-wage workers as legal immigrants. Most Americans think immigrants play positive roles in our nation, but those views are strongest among Democrats and Independents while Republicans and apolitical people are often unsure.
  3. Disagreement along the political spectrum is pronounced regarding building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, separating families at the border, and how to handle immigration during the coronavirus crisis. Few Americans think the wall will effectively stop people from entering the country illegally, but most Republicans say it is an important symbol, nonetheless.
  4. Many Americans are misinformed or unsure about key aspects of immigration. For example, few people know that most immigrants live in the U.S. legally or that many undocumented immigrants pay taxes. Americans who are more accurately informed tend to express more positive views of immigrants and favor more welcoming immigration policies.

Overall, this research finds areas of cross-partisan agreement on several aspects of immigration that could point the way towards workable policy solutions. While the research finds genuine cross-partisan disagreement on some aspects of this issue, the extent of ambivalence or mixed opinions is striking — particularly among Republicans and apolitical people. Also striking is the prevalence of misperceptions about immigration, which tend to correspond with more restrictive views on immigration policy among respondents. It is our hope that this report, along with the other Hidden Common Ground activities that accompany it, can help to focus, frame, and stimulate an informed and productive conversation about improving our nation’s immigration system.

The Hidden Common Ground Initiative™ challenges the increasingly dominant narrative of a hopelessly divided America by identifying and elevating the areas where Americans agree on politically polarized issues and by fostering productive dialogue on those areas where we truly disagree.

Hidden Common Ground 2020 is the latest and most exciting iteration of our HCG initiative. Throughout the presidential election season it will involve public opinion research on major issues, innovative journalism and commentary, broad-based public engagement, “Strange Bedfellows” storytelling, and community-based dialogues and events. It is supported by a diverse group of foundations, including the Carnegie Corporation of New Yorkthe John S. and James L. Knight Foundationthe Charles Koch Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well as through the generosity of individual donors. In addition, the Kettering Foundation is a research partner of the initiative.

Divisiveness and Collaboration in America is the first research publication of our Hidden Common Ground 2020 partnership.

America’s Hidden Common Ground on Race and Police Reform: Results from a Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos snapshot survey

Most Americans (58%) say racial bias against Black or African Americans committed by police and law enforcement is a serious problem in their community, including 75% of Democrats and 51% of Independents as well as 40% of Republicans. There is significant common ground across the political spectrum and across racial/ethnic groups on several measures to reduce police use of excessive force against Black Americans, including increasing transparency and data collection, de-escalation and anti-bias training, recruiting more Black officers, and community policing. Americans are split on how to change police departments’ budgets and whether to reduce departments’ responsibilities in the community.

Read the snapshot.

 America’s Hidden Common Ground on the Coronavirus Crisis: Results from a Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos survey of Americans’ views on reopening their communities

Regardless of political affiliation, Americans see the pandemic as more of a threat to their physical health than to their mental health and financial well-being. More Americans report that they have donated money, supplies or time to community members in need (37% in May and 28% in March). Americans are cautiously optimistic about the effects of the virus on their communities, and most (62%) think the government’s priority should be preventing the virus from spreading and keeping people from getting sick or dying – a drop of ten percentage points from March when 72% prioritized preventing the virus from spreading.

Read the snapshot.

America’s Hidden Common Ground on the Coronavirus: Results from a Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos Snapshot Poll

According to a new Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos Hidden Common Ground Survey, Americans are aligned on the large threat that COVID-19 poses to the United States, the stock market and the global economy, as well as the steps the government should take to help businesses and people affected. Though Americans see the virus as less of a threat to them or to their community, they are using this time to rally around local businesses, neighbors, and their friends and family.

Read the snapshot.

This report summarizes findings from a nationally representative survey of 1,054 adult Americans 18 years and older. The survey was fielded May 15-24, 2020 by Ipsos using the probability-based web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. Respondents completed the survey in English or Spanish. The survey was weighted to match Census figures to ensure full representation of the American people.

The research also draws from four demographically diverse focus groups that Public Agenda conducted in February and March 2020 in Miami, Florida; Columbus, Ohio; New York, New York; and Jackson, Mississippi. The focus groups were conducted before the coronavirus pandemic began. For a complete survey methodology, the topline with full question wording and cross tabulations by political affiliation, please go to https://www.publicagenda.org/reports/where-americans-stand-on-immigration-a-hidden-common-ground-report/ or email research@publicagenda.org.