New Survey Shows Voters See Undocumented Immigrants in a Positive Light

The narrative of undocumented immigrants as criminals and cheaters that is being peddled by folks like Donald Trump is false, and there is data to prove it. 

This week, at a briefing at NCLR Headquarters, George Washington University Professor Michael Cornfield presented findings of new research that explores the attitudes among American voters toward undocumented immigrants. The data show that most U.S. voters have positive views of undocumented immigrants when it comes to their character, motivation, and impact on our nation.

“Among American voters today, there is a substantial, multidimensional and widespread favorable attitude toward undocumented immigrants,” said Dr. Cornfield, Associate Professor of Political Management and Research Director, Global Center for Political Engagement, The George Washington University. “Political strategists and policymakers should take these majority attitudes into serious consideration.”

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The study, “Broad Sympathies and Borderline Myths shows that most voters see undocumented immigrants positively, saying they are “family- and community-oriented” (71 percent), and “filling jobs Americans don’t want” (67 percent). In fact, a majority of those surveyed (59 percent) disagreed with the sentiment that they are ‘cheaters’ here to just help themselves, or that they “belong to gangs and commit crimes” (56 percent).

To provide some historical context to the report, journalist and Wilson Center public policy scholar Edward Shumacher-Matos joined the panel.

“We have seen Donald Trump types throughout American history make such vile comments and for a while it appeals to people’s fears,” said Schumacher-Matos. “In the 19th century, it appealed to a populist movement that proudly called itself the ‘Know-Nothings’ and who accused Irish Catholic immigrants of being apelike and criminals. But sooner or later, as this poll shows, the vast majority of Americans catch on.”

Katie Packer, of Republican consulting firm Burning Glass, also joined the briefing to underscore that disparaging immigrants is a losing strategy for her party.

Our study of GOP primary voters in early states along with general election voters in swing states indicates that the strongest candidate is one who supports a multistep path toward legal status for undocumented immigrants, along with much stronger border security,” said Packer. “This combination of accountability and compassion is the sweet spot for a majority of American voters.”

“The findings show that the majority of voters disagree with Donald Trump’s offensive remarks, and that demonizing immigrants will not win the White House,” said our own Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, Deputy Vice President, Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation. “The vast majority of Americans are in a much more pragmatic place than Congress on this issue, and they believe immigrants make valuable contributions to our nation.”

See the full presentation of the briefing here.

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