December 17, 2019

In a Politically Polarized Era, Sharp Divides in Both Partisan Coalitions

4. Views on race and immigration

Some of the starkest partisan divides on political values are seen in views about race and immigration: Democrats are substantially more likely than Republicans to say that the country has not gone far enough to give black people equal rights and that white people benefit from societal advantages that black people do not have. Democrats also express more positive views of immigrants and the nation’s growing ethnic and racial diversity.

Yet there are substantial demographic divisions within both parties on some of these values. For instance, among Democrats, there are both racial and ideological differences on issues of race. And younger Republicans are more likely than older Republicans to express positive views of immigrants and to say that openness is a defining characteristic of the nation’s identity.

Partisan and racial differences in views of ‘white privilege’

Wide racial, partisan divides over whether white people have societal advantages black people don’t Nearly six-in-ten Americans (58%) say that white people benefit either “a great deal” (29%) or “a fair amount” (29%) from advantages that black people do not have. About four-in-ten (41%) say white people benefit “not too much” (23%) or “not at all” (18%) from societal advantages.

Nearly nine-in-ten black adults (89%) say white people benefit at least a fair amount from advantages that black people do not have, including 68% who say white people benefit a great deal. A far smaller share of white adults say that white people benefit at least a fair amount from advantages in society that black people do not have (47%), with just 19% saying whites benefit a great deal.

The partisan divide on this question is particularly stark. About seven-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (71%) say white people get few or no advantages in society that black people do not have.

By contrast, 83% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say white people benefit a great deal or a fair amount from advantages not available to black people, while only 16% see little or no such advantages.

About eight-in-ten or more black, white and Hispanic Democrats say that whites benefit a great deal or a fair amount from advantages that black people do not have. However, black Democrats are substantially more likely than others to say that whites benefit “a great deal” from these advantages (70% say this, compared with 40% of white Democrats and 47% of Hispanic Democrats).

The differences between black and white Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are evident across demographic subgroups.

Among Democrats, sizable racial gaps over how much whites benefit from advantages blacks do not have For instance, 68% of black Democrats without a bachelor’s degree say that whites benefit a great deal from societal advantages that black people do not have, compared with just 30% of white Democrats without a degree. There’s also a racial gap in views among Democrats who have graduated from college: 78% of black college graduates say whites benefit a great deal from societal advantages that black people do not have, compared with about half of white Democrats who have graduated from college (51%).

Overall, liberal Democrats are more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to say whites benefit a great deal from societal advantages black people do not have (59% vs. 40%). And this pattern holds among both black and white Democrats.

White liberal Democrats and Democratic leaners are more than twice as likely as white conservative and moderate Democrats to say whites benefit a great deal from advantages in society black people do not have (54% vs. 22%). However, white liberal Democrats are less likely than both black liberal Democrats (80%) and black conservative and moderate Democrats (66%) to say this.

Most Democrats say the country hasn’t gone far enough on racial equality

About four-in-ten Americans (43%) say that the country has not gone far enough when it comes to giving black people equal rights with whites, while the same share (43%) says that this has been about right; 14% say the U.S. has gone too far.

But these views are deeply divided by race. Roughly a third of white adults (34%) say the U.S. has not gone far enough when it comes to giving black people equal rights, while about half (49%) say the U.S. has been about right when it comes to this issue; 16% say the country has gone too far on equal rights.

Majority of Democrats say country hasn’t gone far enough in giving black people equal rights By comparison, 80% of black adults say the country hasn’t gone far enough to ensure equal rights, while only 15% say it has been about right and 5% say it has gone too far.

And while 67% of Democrats say that the country has not gone far enough when it comes to giving black people equal rights with whites, just 15% of Republicans say the same. About six-in-ten Republicans (62%) say the country has been about right in these efforts, and 23% say the country has gone too far when it comes to giving black people equal rights.

Most say the prospect of a majority-minority U.S. is neither good or bad

About two-thirds of Americans say that demographic predictions of a majority of the U.S. population being made up of African Americans, Latinos and people of Asian descent over the next several decades will be neither good nor bad for the nation. About two-in-ten (21%) say that this will be a good thing, while 13% say that it will be a bad thing.

Across all demographic groups, the most common response is that this change will be neither good nor bad for the country. Nevertheless, black (43%) and Hispanic (35%) adults are more likely than white adults (12%) to characterize this as a good thing.

Most say long-term growth in racial and ethnic diversity is neither a good nor a bad thing for the U.S. These views also differ by partisanship. While majorities of both Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (73%) and Democrats and Democratic-leaners (60%) say that racial and ethnic minorities making up a majority of the population would be neither good nor bad, Republicans are much less likely than Democrats to say that this change is good (6% vs. 33%). And while relatively small shares in either party say this change is bad, Republicans are more likely than Democrats (21% vs. 7%) to say this.

Americans are now somewhat less likely to see the prospect of a majority-nonwhite nation in the next several decades as a bad thing for the country than they were in 2016 (13% today, down from 22% in 2016).

Since 2016, fewer Republicans say prospect of a majority-minority nation is a bad thingOver the past three years, the share of Republicans who say that this population change would be a bad thing has decreased from 39% to 21%, while the share saying that it would be neither good nor bad increased from 57% to 73%. Among Democrats, 33% now say that this population change is a good thing, up from 23% in 2016.

Most say openness to people from around the world is essential to U.S. national identity

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say that openness to people from all over the world is essential to who America is as a nation, while 32% say that if America is too open to people from all over the world, the country risks losing its identity as a nation. And by 57% to 41%, more Americans say that the growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society rather than threatens traditional American customs and values.

Majorities of the public have positive views of nation’s ‘openness’ and the impact of newcomers on the U.S.

There are stark partisan divides on these two questions. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 45% say that America’s openness is essential, while 86% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say the same. Only about three-in-ten Republicans (31%) say that newcomers from other countries strengthen American society, while 78% of Democrats hold this view.

People with more education, nonwhites and younger people are more likely than others to both view the growing number of newcomers from around the world positively and to say America’s openness to the world is an essential component of the national identity.

For example, while roughly seven-in-ten black (68%) and Hispanic (69%) adults say a rising number of newcomers to the country strengthens the nation, white adults are more divided: 51% say this strengthens the nation, while 48% say it threatens traditional American customs and values.

Growing shares in both parties say newcomers from other countries strengthen American societyThe age and educational divides on this question are particularly pronounced: While 71% of those ages 18 to 29 and 61% of those 30 to 49 say the growing number of newcomers strengthens American society, that compares with about half (48%) of those ages 50 and older. And while 73% of those with postgraduate degrees and 67% of those with a bachelor’s degree say newcomers from around the world strengthen the country, a narrower majority of those with some college experience (56%) and only 47% of those with no college experience say the same.

There are similar demographic patterns of opinion in views of whether America’s openness to people from around the world puts the national identity at risk or is a central component of it.

The share of Americans holding the view that newcomers strengthen American society is 11 percentage points higher than it was in the spring of 2016: 57% now say this, up from 53% from March 2018 and 46% in May 2016.

Both Democrats and Republicans are now more likely to view newcomers as strengthening the country than they were three years ago.

Older Republicans are the least likely to see immigrants as strengthening the U.S. While roughly half of Republicans ages 18 to 34 (49%) say newcomers strengthen American society, just a third of Republicans ages 35 to 49 (33%) and 22% of those 50 and older say the same.

Sharp age divide among Republicans in views of the impact of newcomers from other countries Similarly, four-in-ten Republicans ages 50 and older say America’s openness is essential to the nation’s identity, compared with 47% of Republicans ages 35 to 49 and 56% of those 18 to 34.

Among Democrats, there are only modest age differences in these views.

There are educational differences in these views within both parties, with college graduates more likely than non-college graduates to view America’s openness to people from around the world as an essential component of the national identity and to say that the growing number of newcomers strengthens U.S. society.

Long-term trends on immigration values

In recent years Pew Research Center has transitioned from probability-based telephone surveys to the American Trends Panel, a probability-based online panel. The transition from phone surveys conducted with an interviewer to online self-administered surveys brings with it the possibility of mode differences – differences arising from the method of interviewing.

This section includes trends in public opinion on two questions about immigration values: whether newcomers from other countries strengthen or threaten American society and values, and whether immigrants strengthen or burden the country economically. These measures, which have long-standing telephone trends, were included on a survey conducted in September on the American Trends Panel (ATP), on which this report is largely based, and a contemporaneous telephone survey. This allows for a comparison of any “mode effects” and places the current panel estimates in the context of telephone data.

Declining share of Americans say growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens American customs and values

In the online survey, 57% say the growing number of newcomers in the country strengthens American society, while 41% say this threatens traditional American customs and values. In the phone survey, the share saying newcomers strengthen society is 4 percentage points higher (61%) than on the American Trends Panel survey, while the share saying newcomers threaten the country is 8 points lower (33%). In the online survey, a lower share of people refuse the question than do over the phone, a common mode difference.

Opinion among Democrats and Democratic leaners is similar in the online and telephone formats. By contrast, the share of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents saying that newcomers threaten the country’s traditional American customs and values is 13 percentage points higher in the online survey than on the phone (67% vs. 54%); the share of Republicans saying newcomers strengthen American society is 6 points lower online (31% vs. 37%).

This question has been asked on the American Trends Panel surveys since the spring of 2016, and over the past three years the phone and online surveys show the same trends (both overall and within the two party coalitions): an increase in the share saying newcomers strengthen the country and a decline in the share saying newcomers threaten the country.

The telephone trend shows that the partisan gap in these views is now substantially wider than it was when the question was first asked 15 years ago. And while the gap is somewhat more pronounced online than on the telephone, it is one of the widest partisan values gaps in both formats.

On a different question, 61% on the American Trends Panel say “immigrants strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” while 36% say “immigrants are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.” On the telephone survey, 66% say immigrants do more to strengthen the country, while 24% view them as more of a burden. As is typically the case, the share offering no opinion is much higher on the telephone survey (10%) than on the online survey (just 3%).

In the online survey, 58% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents characterize immigrants as a burden on this question; 44% say this in the phone survey. The share of Republicans saying immigrants strengthen the country is roughly the same in both formats (just 3% offer no opinion online, while 15% do so on the phone). Relatively small shares of Democrats and Democratic leaners express this view that immigrants are more of a burden, but a larger share expresses this view on the ATP (19%) than on the telephone survey (8%).

Since 1994, Republicans and Democrats have diverged sharply in views of whether immigrants do more to strengthen or burden the country

There are wide partisan differences evident in both modes on this question. The telephone trend shows that these differences have increased substantially over the past 25 years.