National Identity and Politics: A Global Question Mark

Communications Associate

June 28, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tensions over immigration and national identity are running high, both at home and abroad. The U.S. presidential election campaign and recent British vote to leave the European Union have made that fact clearer than ever.

But pare the issue down in the U.S. and a more nuanced picture emerges. Last week, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released a new report, “How Immigration and Concerns about Cultural Change are Shaping the 2016 Election.” Among other things, it found that 61 percent of Americans say immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be allowed a way to become citizens, provided they meet certain requirements.

Only 21 percent support the mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants, and a solid 58 percent of Americans oppose building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

PRRI also found that “A majority (55 percent) of Americans believe that the American way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence, while more than four in ten (44 percent) disagree.” This particular finding is worrying since Americans are nearly twice as likely to think immigrants are changing society, but only 15 percent of Americans reported living in a community with large numbers of new immigrants.

“Studies — let alone politics — are showing that ­people are worried society and culture is changing,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “We see that in the anger coming from the presidential campaign, and the Brexit vote was an across-the-pond manifestation of that fear.

“The PRRI polling underscores that this is now a debate about changing culture and values, not just the politics and policy of immigration. And that debate is taking place around the world.

“But American politics are by no means a mirror image of the British. The American electorate is younger, larger and more diverse. Across the country and across the political spectrum, elected officials, faith, law enforcement and business leaders are speaking to the value of immigrants and immigration.

“When Americans head to the polls in November, I don’t think we’ll see a similar vote for exclusion and isolation. Instead, I’m confident we’ll see a recognition that America is better when we embrace our immigrant history and provide all new Americans with the opportunity, skills and status they need to succeed.”