Chicago Council Survey Shows Long-term Trend toward Improving Public Opinion on Immigration is Holding Steady

October 28, 2014
The 2014 Chicago Council Survey, conducted in May, recorded some of the most favorable public opinion on immigration since The Chicago Council on Global Affairs began polling on immigration in 1994. A follow-up survey, conducted in October, shows the intense media coverage of a “surge” of Central American minors on the U.S.-Mexico border did little to effect the 20-year trend toward improving public opinion on immigration.
Findings from both the May and October surveys are included in a report released today by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
“President Barack Obama cited the public’s attention to the plight of migrant children as his reason to postpone long-awaited executive action on immigration in early September, promising to revisit the issue after midterm elections,” said Michele Wucker, vice president of studies for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “Our survey results suggest that current public opinion on immigration is effectively the same as it was five months ago, at a time when the President was ready to take action on the issue.”
In May 2014, only 39 percent of Americans labeled large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States as a critical threat, the lowest recorded percentage since the Chicago Council began asking this question in 1994. The importance Americans place on the goal of controlling and reducing illegal immigration also has fallen dramatically over the last two decades. In 1994, 72 percent of the American public said that controlling and reducing illegal immigration was a very important goal for US foreign policy. In May half (47%) of Americans said the same.
The follow-up survey conducted in October found public perception of large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States as a “critical threat” is not significantly different from the all-time-low level recorded in May 2014. Similarly, a long-term trend of declining importance placed on “controlling and reducing illegal immigration” held steady, with no significant difference between current levels and those recorded in May 2014.

Of note is a significant increase in both Republicans’ and Democrats’ views of immigration as a critical threat in October 2014; both groups rose nine percentage points between May and October. Among Republicans, the increase marks a return to levels of concern expressed in 2010, when six in ten (62%) said the same. For Democrats, it marks a return to levels of concern expressed in 2012, when an identical proportion (30%) labeled the issue as a critical threat. Independents, by contrast, showed no such shift, with four in ten in both May (42%) and October (41%) labeling immigration as a critical threat. This stability among Independents accounts for the statistical equality between the May and October results, despite significant shifts among both Republicans and Democrats.
This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Chicago Council Survey. The 2014 survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide research panel between May 6 to May 29, 2014 among a national sample of 2,108 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error ranges from ± 2.1 to ± 4.1 percentage points depending on the specific question.
The October 2014 survey was also conducted by GfK Custom Research, and was fielded October 3-5, 2014, among a national sample of 1,009 adults. The margin of error for this survey is ± 3.1 percentage points, with higher margins of error for partisan and age subgroups.
The 2014 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Korea Foundation, the United States-Japan Foundation, and the personal support of Lester Crown.
For more results from the 2014 Chicago Council Survey, please see Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment, which can be found at