The Republican reaction to House Speaker John Boehner’s sudden resignation last Friday has been anything but somber, ranging from a standing ovation at a conservative voter summit, to cheers from the GOP presidential field, to a rendition of zip-a-dee-doo-dah from the soon-to-be former Speaker himself.
A decidedly more serious response has come from a seemingly unlikely source: immigration advocates. Following news of Boehner’s resignation, various groups have issued impassioned pleas for the Speaker to use his remaining time in Congress to call a vote on S.744, the immigration reform bill that has languished in the House since passing the Senate in June 2013. The lame duck Speaker has little to lose by acting on an issue he once prioritized as “long overdue,” they say. Calling a vote would secure his legacy as the man who re-ignited the national debate on immigration, they speculate.
The Speaker’s office has countered, cautioning that they “don’t expect anything to change on [immigration reform] over the next month.” But numbers from the 2015 Chicago Council Survey suggest that calling a vote might not be a bad idea: There is actually widespread bipartisan support for employment and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, both core elements of S.744.
The 2015 Chicago Council Survey data indicates significant—but divided—GOP backing of immigration reform. The prospect of undocumented workers staying in the US and keeping their jobs had traction among a majority (54%) of Republican respondents surveyed. Support varied with self-reported strength of party affiliation, lower (49%) for “strong” Republicans and higher (59%) for “weak” Republicans. A full 42 percent of these “weak” Republicans also supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers.
What’s more, the Chicago Council Survey points to low levels of concern about immigration amongst Republican “elite” leadership, with small cohorts citing immigration as a “critical threat” (16%) agreeing that controlling and reducing immigration is a “very important” policy goal (20%). Such relaxed attitudes explain why the anti-immigrant rhetoric characterizing the presidential campaign as of late is turning off conservative leadership, including the executive director of a Koch brothers-backed organization.
Meanwhile, Democrats and Independents are significantly—if predictably—less concerned about immigration than their Republican peers. In fact, a 20-year downward trend in overall public concern about immigration has been driven by a dramatic drop amongst Democrats, even as Republican concern on the issue has held fairly steady. A full 85 percent of Democrats agree that undocumented workers should be allowed to stay in their jobs, as do 68 percent of Independents. Majorities of both parties—77 and 52 percent respectively—support some kind of pathway to citizenship for these workers.
Inter- and intra-party divisions and politics matter little to average Americans, who just want to see Congress get the job done. They are increasingly keen on the economic contributions of immigrants—including undocumented immigrants, who paid $11 billion in state and local taxes in 2012—and increasingly supportive of policy solutions that allow these workers to keep working. (The Chicago Council Survey recorded a super-majority of Americans—69%—agreeing that undocumented workers should be allowed to stay in their jobs. And a majority—56%—agreed that undocumented workers should be able to apply for U.S. citizenship.) Such strong support for immigration reform may be due to a well-documented net-zero migration from Mexico, and the demographic reality that immigrants of all stripes have driven more than half of the nation’s population growth since 1965—the last time that the US saw a comprehensive immigration reform. There’s also the fact that the Latino electorate is growing in strength and numbers, ready to go to the polls to elect new representation that reflects their strong, personal support of immigration reform if necessary.
Members of Congress are ultimately accountable to this general electorate, a public that has long given them dismal approval ratings and is eager to see their Representatives move forward on long-promised, much-maligned reform legislation. Speaker Boehner would do well to embrace the common ground that does actually exist with his Congressional colleagues on this issue—and with the voters they collectively represent.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy.
The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion.
The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.
The January 11 elections in Taiwan could have long-term implications for East Asia.
The year in review on all things public opinion.
Japan-South Korea relations have had a rocky 2019. How has the Japanese public reacted to recent developments in the bilateral relationship?
Amidst ongoing unrest, Hong Kong held local elections on November 24th. The vote, widely seen as a referendum on the handling of the protests by the current government, saw pro-democracy candidates secure 85 percent of the seats. As the results of the latest round of surveys by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute show, greater challenges now lie ahead for Beijing in its handling of Hong Kong.
The World Trade Organization's dispute settlement mechanism has ceased to function. Without a formal means of disputing trade grievances, the future of the international trade system is murky.
With December comes a month of holiday greetings with friends, in the workplace, and in shops and stores. What greetings do Americans prefer?
Political debates can turn homely holiday gatherings into bothersome quarrels, but large partisan divides need not sour healthy discourse. When it comes to foreign policy, we agree on more than you may think.
Ukrainian citizens are cynical about the effectiveness of aid from Western allies in the ongoing war in Donbass. Meanwhile, regional differences in attitude towards Russia remain prominent.
Democratic primary season is well under way, highlighted by recent debates and battleground fundraising by the large field of presidential hopefuls. As candidates deliver their pitch to voters, party supporters are not in lockstep on every issue.
America’s young and old are split on what to do about climate change, presenting a major hurdle for the country’s youth to attain serious and immediate action.
Opinion in Northern Ireland is polarized amid Brexit negotiations.
The United Kingdom remains split on Brexit as Parliament is suspended amid tumultuous backlash.
How are Americans reacting to the US-China trade war?
Mexicans have a far more negative views of Trump than of the United States or the US-Mexico relationship.
Amid the protests and violence in Hong Kong, a recent survey reveals differences in opinions between younger and older age groups as well as between more and less educated people living in Hong Kong.