One of Donald Trump’s signature campaign issues was immigration. While we have few details about what he actually proposes, he talked during the campaign about building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, enlisting a “deportation force” to deport undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and a ban on Muslims from entering the country.
While Donald Trump has won the election, mass deportation has not won over voters.
According to national exit polls, more than two-thirds (70 percent) of voters believed that “illegal immigrants working in the U.S. should be offered legal status.” Only 25 percent believed they should be deported.
Building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico similarly lacked the support of a majority, with 54 percent opposing the idea.
While Trump’s victory might have been a surprise, public support for earned legalized status for undocumented immigrants is not. Dozens of public opinion surveys over the past several years have shown consistent public support for the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. if they meet certain conditions. Support continued throughout the campaign, even as rhetoric about immigrants and refugees became harsher. In the final days of the campaign, as polls fluctuated, public support for a pathway to earned citizenship remained steady. Following is a summary of some of the opinion polls that came out in the weeks leading up to the election.
A Gallup poll that found 84 percent of U.S. adults favored “allowing immigrants living in the U.S. illegally the chance to become U.S. citizens” if they met certain requirements over a period of time. Among Republicans, 76 percent favored this proposal. Two-thirds of adults opposed the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Fox News released a poll in which registered voters were asked what they thought “should happen to the illegal immigrants who are currently working in the United States.” More than three-quarters (77 percent) said they favored setting up a system for them to become legal residents. This compares to 64 percent who favored legal status in a Fox poll a year earlier. In other words, Fox News measured a 13 percentage point increase in those who favored allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. over the course of the presidential election campaign. In this poll, 48 percent of Trump supporters said they would be more likely to support Trump if he were to “soften his position on handling illegal immigrants living in the United States” (versus 15 percent who said they would be less likely to support Trump).
A New York Times/CBS News poll of 1,753 adults, including 1,433 registered voters, found solid support (62 percent) for allowing “illegal immigrants who are living in the U.S.” to stay and eventually apply for citizenship. An additional 12 percent said such immigrants should be allowed to say in the U.S. but should not be allowed to apply for citizenship. A year earlier, in September 2015, the Times and CBS News measured 58 percent support for allowing immigrants to apply for citizenship.
A Quinnipiac University national poll of likely voters found similar results, with 61 percent saying that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship, and an additional 11 percent saying that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay but not apply for citizenship. Only 24 percent said they should be forced to leave the country. Among Trump supporters, 39 percent were for citizenship and 14 percent favored allowing undocumented immigrants to stay without citizenship. Likely voters were opposed to the U.S.-Mexico wall, 53 percent to 42 percent.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 78 percent of likely voters said they preferred “offering undocumented immigrants who pass backgrounds checks a path to citizenship.” A majority, 60 percent, opposed the wall.
In a CNN poll of adults nationwide, 88 percent said they favored a bill that would allow immigrants living in the country illegally to stay and eventually apply for citizenship. This includes 80 percent of Trump supporters.
A Pew Research Center poll found 80 percent of all registered voters said they thought undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who meet certain requirements should be allowed to stay legally. This included 60 percent of Trump supporters and 95 percent of Clinton supporters.
Fox News put out another poll showing that 74 percent of likely voters said they favored setting up a system to allow “illegal immigrants who are currently working in the United States” to become legal. Only 18 percent favored “deport as many as possible.”
Reuters released a poll of adults in Arizona that found 47 percent of Arizona residents thought that the border wall would be “a waste of money,” while only 34 percent thought it would be an “effective barrier.”
It has been more than 25 years since America’s immigration system was last overhauled. The question of what to do with undocumented immigrants who have now lived and worked in this country for many years has been on the table for too long. It is not practical and there is no public appetite for deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants, and in fact there is support — consistent over many years — for allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. if they meet certain conditions. It is long past time for Congress to set those conditions and make the many other reforms necessary to bring our immigration system to meet our country’s needs in the 21st century.
The National Immigration Forum summarized public opinion on immigration from earlier in the campaign, as measured in various polls from the summer of 2015 through June of 2016, here.