Poll: Republicans Like Immigration Reform, Not Sold On Immigrants

March 28, 2013 11:34 a.m.

A strong majority of Americans, including Republicans, supports immigration reform that would let the nation’s undocumented population stay in the country legally, according to a new poll. But there’s a sharp divide over how partisans view the immigrants themselves.

Some 71 percent of respondents said they support granting at least some legal status to illegal immigrants, according to the poll by the Pew Research Center, which surveyed 1,501 American adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent. Democrats favored legalization by a 76-21 margin, versus 64-34 for Republicans and 70-29 for Independents. There were divisions over whether a bill should eventually grant immigrants citizenship or just permanent residency, however: Democrats favored citizenship over just legal status by a 48-24 margin, Republicans by 38-22, and independents by 39-28.

The policy outlook might appear bright for immigration reform, but Republicans’ surprisingly deep animus towards immigrants themselves could complicate the latest efforts by the RNC to draw in minority voters.

According to Pew, many of the same respondents who expressed enthusiasm for legislation that would legalize undocumented immigrants were much more skeptical of immigrants’ themselves. Just 33 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement that immigrants “strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents” while 55 percent endorsed an opposing statement: “immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.” For Democrats the numbers were flipped: 58 percent said they thought immigrants strengthened society while 36 percent considered them a burden.

Among overall respondents, immigration was viewed positively by a 49-41 margin. Based on Pew’s historical data, that puts the nation in a relatively immigrant-friendly mood: a 1994 poll asking the same question found just 31 percent of respondents viewed immigrants as a boost to the country versus 63 percent who felt they were a drag on the economy.

The latest poll comes on the heels of a study by the Brookings Institute and PRRI that also found majority support among Republicans and conservative demographics for immigration reform. But if Pew’s numbers are to be believed, the GOP’s nativist streak is still intense and bears close watching as immigration legislation moves forward.

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