May 1, 2013

Division, Uncertainty over New Immigration Bill

Most View Boston Attack as Separate Issue

Overview

As Congress debates a bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration policy, much of the public has yet to form an opinion about the legislation. About as many say they favor (33%) as oppose 5-1-13 #1(28%) the immigration bill before Congress, but fully 38% say they don’t know what they think of the legislation.

At this early stage of debate, the public does not think the bill would have a major impact on the nation’s economy or security. About half say either that the immigration bill would not make much of a difference for the economy (35%) or that they don’t know how the bill would affect the economy (17%). An even greater percentage says the bill would have no impact on the country’s safety from terrorism (57%) or that they don’t know how the country’s security would be affected (16%).

The national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted April 25-28 among 1,003 adults, finds that most do not think the Boston Marathon bombings should be an important factor in the debate over immigration legislation. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say the Boston attack and the immigration debate are mostly separate issues, while 36% say the attack should be an important factor in the debate.

Overall, the debate over immigration policy has drawn little public attention. Just 19% say they are following the story very closely. And most Americans are unaware of some of the legislation’s visible aspects.

Fewer than half (46%) know that the bill would allow unauthorized immigrants to stay in the country while applying for citizenship. And just 37% know that it was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators.

Views of Immigration Bill

5-1-13 #2Twice as many Democrats favor (44%) as oppose (22%) the immigration bill currently being debated in Congress, while 33% do not offer an opinion. Republicans are divided with 30% in favor, 34% opposed and 36% not offering an opinion. Independents also are split (28% favor, 31% oppose, 40% don’t know).

Notably, independents who lean to the Republican Party express more opposition to the bill than do self-identified Republicans. About half of Republican-leaning independents (51%) oppose the immigration bill while just 19% favor it.

College graduates support the immigration bill by roughly two-to-one (44% to 21%). Those with lower levels of education are divided over the legislation.

Blacks offer more support (42%) than opposition (22%) to the bill, while 36% offer no opinion. By contrast, whites are divided: 28% favor the proposal, 31% oppose it and 41% do not offer an opinion.

Immigration Bill Seen as Having Limited Impact

The public does not think the immigration bill before Congress would have a major impact on the economy or the country’s safety from terrorism.

When asked how the immigration bill would impact the U.S. economy, as many say it would help the economy (24%) as hurt the economy (23%). A 35% plurality says the bill 5-1-13 #3wouldn’t make much difference for the economy and 17% do not offer an opinion.

In addition, 57% do not think the bill would have an effect on the country’s safety from terrorism. Those who see a potential impact are divided over whether the bill would make the country safer (14%) or less safe (13%); 16% do not offer an opinion.

There are modest partisan differences in these opinions. Overall, somewhat more Democrats say the bill would help (33%) rather than hurt (18%) the U.S. economy, while about a third (34%) say it wouldn’t make much difference. About as many Republicans say the bill would hurt (25%) as help (21%) the economy, while 36% say it wouldn’t make much difference. Independents’ views are similar to those of Republicans.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that the immigration bill would make the country less safe from terrorism (20% vs. 8%). But a plurality of Republicans (46%), and majorities of Democrats (62%) and independents (61%), say the bill wouldn’t have much of an effect on the country’s safety from terrorism.

Boston Attack, Immigration Debate Seen as Separate Issues

While there has been discussion in Washington about whether the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon should impact the debate over immigration, a majority of the public sees the 5-1-13 #4two as separate issues. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say the bombings and debate over the immigration bill are mostly separate issues, while 36% say the Boston bombings should be an important factor in the debate.

Most independents (62%) and Democrats (59%) see the Boston bombings and immigration debate as separate. Republicans are somewhat more divided: 50% say they are separate issues, 46% say the bombings should be an important factor in the immigration debate.

Most Don’t Know Key Facts about Bill

Most Americans don’t know that the immigration bill before Congress was introduced by a group of Republican and Democratic senators 5-1-13 #5or that the bill stipulates that unauthorized immigrants be allowed to stay in the country while applying for citizenship.

About four-in-ten (37%) correctly say that the bill was introduced by a mix of Republican and Democratic senators; 47% volunteer that they don’t know who introduced the bill, while 9% say it was introduced by a group of Democrats and 7% say it was introduced by a group of Republicans.

Only somewhat more (46%) know that the bill allows unauthorized immigrants to stay in the country while applying for citizenship, 16% think unauthorized immigrants must return to their home country before applying and 37% don’t know.

Just 24% of the public correctly answered both knowledge questions, 35% got one question correct while 41% answered neither question correctly.

Support for Bill among Knowledgeable

People who are relatively knowledgeable about the immigration bill – those able to answer both questions 5-1-13 #6correctly – favor the legislation by 50% to 33%. Those less knowledgeable are more evenly divided.

Among those getting only one knowledge question correct, about as many favor (36%) as oppose (33%) the legislation with 31% not offering an opinion. A majority (57%) of those unable to answer either knowledge question have no opinion of the bill; 21% favor the legislation, while 22% oppose it.

5-1-13 #7The partisan differences in views of the immigration bill are wider among those who are aware that the bill allows unauthorized immigrants to stay in the U.S while applying for citizenship.

Republicans who know that the bill allows unauthorized immigrants to stay in the U.S. oppose the legislation by nearly two-to-one (52% to 27%). By contrast, Democrats who know this support the bill by three-to-one (60% to 18%).

Democrats who know the bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators also favor the bill by a wide margin (63% to 18%). But Republicans who know the legislation was sponsored by a group of Republicans and Democrats are divided (35% favor vs. 42% oppose).

Cite this publication: “Division, Uncertainty over New Immigration Bill.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (May 1, 2013) http://www.people-press.org/2013/05/01/division-uncertainty-over-new-immigration-bill/, accessed on July 23, 2014.