Poll: Trump Taps Longstanding Trade and Immigration Fears but Finds Minority Constituency

October 6, 2016

Americans are increasingly divided by party over immigration and globalization, with core supporters of Donald Trump most opposed to immigrants and least likely to support free trade, according to the 2016 Chicago Council Survey. The report is being issued today in partnership with The Washington Post and the Wilson Center.

Yet the poll also shows that Americans overall support continued immigration into the United States and think globalization is mostly good for the country. In addition, the American public as a whole—including core Trump supporters—favors maintaining traditional U.S. alliances, a strong U.S. leadership role in the world, and U.S. military superiority.

“Although the Trump campaign has been able to mobilize many of those who are most concerned about the effects of trade on our economy and jobs and about the changing demographics of the United States, these motivating concerns are not new, according to our polling,” said Ambassador Ivo H. Daalder, president of the Council on Global Affairs. “Whoever wins the presidency will have to address this segment of the American public—one that has felt neglected by the traditional political class and is increasingly concerned about the disruptions of globalization.”

The Council will release the report, “America in the Age of Uncertainty,” at the center today. A panel of experts—Council President Ivo Daalder, Wilson Center President Jane Harman, Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution, report author and senior Council fellow Dina Smeltz, and moderator Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post—will discuss what the survey findings mean for the future of American foreign policy and influence abroad.  The discussion will be live streamed at 10 a.m. EDT.

The report relies on polling conducted June 10-27, 2016, among a national sample of 2,061 adults in all 50 U.S. states and uses trend-line data from the poll’s inception in 1974 to reveal key findings about U.S. public opinion on foreign policy and global issues.

Trump’s Core Support is on Immigration and Trade

  • Immigration: Core Trump supporters are almost twice as likely as the general public to agree that immigration is a “critical threat” to the United States (80 percent).
  • Six in ten Trump supporters believe that illegal immigrants in the United States should be forced to leave their jobs and the United States (63 percent).
  • Ninety-two percent of Trump supporters support expanding the wall on the border with Mexico.
  • Trump supporters are more unfavorable than Republicans overall in their views of Middle Eastern immigrants (only 15 percent favorable among core Trump supporters vs. 29 percent of Republicans overall) and are even less likely to favor admitting refugees from Syria into the United States (9 percent support among core Trump supporters vs. 18 percent of Republicans overall).
  • Trade: Half of Trump backers (49 percent) say that globalization has been mostly good for the United States. They also are least likely to say that free trade has been good for the U.S. economy, consumers like them or their own standard of living.


Yet Negative Feelings on Immigration and Trade Not New and Not Majority View

  • Immigration: Since 1998, a majority of Republicans have consistently said that immigration is a critical threat to the United States, which, at 67 percent, is at a peak today. In contrast, beginning in 2002, Democrats’ concerns about immigration steadily decreased, with just 27 percent of Democrats saying it poses a critical threat in 2016.
  • Yet overall only 43 percent of Americans see immigration as a threat to the United States, while 48 percent overall favor building a wall on the border with Mexico.
  • Further, an overall majority of Americans (58 percent) say that illegal immigrants currently working in the United States should be allowed to stay and pursue a path to citizenship.
  • Trade: Similarly, since 2008, Republicans have consistently expressed more negative views than Democrats on globalization and trade; the gap between Republicans and Democrats on support for globalization has grown from 4 percentage points in 2006 to 15 percent in 2016.
  • Yet overall 65 percent of Americans continue to say that globalization is mostly good for the United States, including 59 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Independents.
  • Overall 60 percent of the public supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, including 58 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Independents.


Role of the United States in the World

  • A majority of Americans (64 percent) agree—as they have since 1974—that it would be best for the future of the country to take an active role in world affairs.
  • While core Trump supporters are more likely than others to favor a dominant leadership position for the United States, 50 percent prefer that the United States take a shared leadership role. This puts Trump’s core supporters in line with Republicans more broadly (53 percent shared leadership) and suggests commonalities with Democrats (70 percent shared) and Independents (63 percent shared).
  • Among the overall public, 89 percent say that maintaining existing alliances is very or somewhat effective at achieving U.S. foreign policy goals. That view has broad support: Democrats (94 percent), Republicans (88 percent) and Independents (86 percent) all view maintaining existing alliances as very or somewhat effective, as do 84 percent of core Trump supporters.
  • Core Trump supporters are divided on whether NATO is essential to U.S. security (50 percent essential, 48 percent no longer essential), but a majority (60 percent) prefer to increase or maintain the U.S. commitment to NATO.


For full data and analysis, including data on Americans’ views of terrorism, China and Russia, download the full report here and graphics from the report here.

See also our previous reports from the 2016 Chicago Council Survey:


About the Chicago Council Survey
The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2016 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2016 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel between June 10-27, 2016 among a national sample of 2,061 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error ranges from ±2.2 to ±3.5 percentage points, depending on the specific question, and is higher among the partisan subgroups.

The 2016 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Korea Foundation and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.