Survey: Historic Gaps between Republicans, Democrats on Immigration Threat; Majority of Americans Support Citizenship

September 18, 2015
As Republican presidential candidates continued their sharp and heated focus on immigration policy in this week’s debate, data from the newly released 2015 Chicago Council Survey show partisan gaps on the scale of the perceived threat from immigrants are at their greatest in nearly 20 years. Yet even as overall concern over immigration is rising, so too is Americans’ support of policy proposals that advance employment and citizenship for undocumented immigrants:
  • Slightly more than half of Americans (52 percent) say controlling and reducing illegal immigration is a very important goal, up 5 percent from 2014 and reversing a general downward trend since 2008.
  • More than four in ten Americans (44 percent) also say that large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States represent a critical threat, up five percentage points from 2014.
Survey Reveals Widest-Ever Partisan Gap on Immigration
  • Gaps between Republicans and Democrats on immigration are the widest in the 20-year history of the Council’s polling on the topic, with a 34 percentage point spread on the perceived threat of immigrants coming to the United States and a 30 point difference on the importance of controlling and reducing illegal immigration (see full report for data since 1998).
  • Currently, majorities of Republicans (66 percent) and Independents (55 percent) say that controlling and reducing illegal immigration should be a very important goal for U.S. foreign policy. Only one third (36 percent) of Democrats agree.
  • Similarly, Republicans (63 percent) are far more likely than Democrats (29 percent) or Independents (46 percent) to view large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States as a critical threat to the nation.
Despite Concerns, Americans Support Employment, Citizenship
  • A super-majority of Americans (69 percent) say that illegal immigrants currently working in the United States should be allowed to stay in their jobs.
  • A majority of Americans (56 percent) agree that illegal immigrants currently working in the United States should be able to apply for U.S. citizenship — a six-point increase over 2013 — either unconditionally (32 percent) or after paying a penalty and waiting a number of years (24 percent).
  • A 14-point increase in Democratic support for citizenship is driving the trend of overall support. In 2015, 77 percent of Democrats favored citizenship for illegal immigrants, up from 63 percent in 2013.
The full brief from the survey may be found here.
About the Chicago Council Survey
The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2015 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2015 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, probability-based nationwide online research KnowledgePanel between May 25 and June 17, 2015 among a national sample of 2,034 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 ± 3.1 percentage points depending on the specific question, with higher margins of error for partisan subgroups.
The 2015 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 and the Crown family.