College Board/National Journal Poll

More in U.S. Warm to the New Melting Pot

While most people accept immigrants for their willingness to take jobs Americans snub, the question of immigrants’ cultural impact still shows a divide across racial, educational, generational, and partisan lines.

CHANTILLY, VA - MAY 21: Originally from El Salvador, 8-year-old Nicole Mejia (C) poses for a photograph with historic reenactors from the First Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line after she became a U.S. citizen during a ceremony at the Sully Historic Site May 21, 2010 in Chantilly, Virginia. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Washington Field Office held the ceremony for children hailing from 14 countries, including Bangladesh, Iran, China, Turkey and Uganda. The children said this oath, 'I promise to love this country/I promise to defend her against her enemies/I am proud to be an American/So help me God.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Ronald Brownstein
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Ronald Brownstein
Nov. 14, 2013, midnight

Most Amer­ic­ans do not view im­mig­rants as a threat either to Amer­ica’s eco­nomy or its cul­ture, but key ele­ments of the Re­pub­lic­an co­ali­tion con­tin­ue to ex­press un­ease at the pace of demo­graph­ic change, the new Col­lege Board/Na­tion­al Journ­al Next Amer­ica Poll has found.

The poll found little con­cern about eco­nom­ic com­pet­i­tion from im­mig­rants: 63 per­cent of those polled said “im­mig­rants com­ing to this coun­try today “¦ mostly take jobs Amer­ic­ans don’t want,” while only 19 per­cent said they “mostly take jobs away from Amer­ic­an cit­izens.”

Those num­bers did not vary widely among al­most all ma­jor groups. Roughly four-fifths of His­pan­ics, two-thirds of Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans, and three-fifths of both whites and Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans said im­mig­rants mostly take jobs Amer­ic­ans don’t want. So did about three-fifths or more of Re­pub­lic­ans, Demo­crats, and in­de­pend­ents, and com­par­able num­bers of Amer­ic­ans at all in­come levels.

Nearly as broad an over­all con­sensus emerged when the sur­vey asked adults wheth­er they be­lieved “the grow­ing num­ber of new­comers from oth­er coun­tries are a threat to tra­di­tion­al Amer­ic­an cus­toms and val­ues.” In all, 56 per­cent of those sur­veyed dis­agreed with that sen­ti­ment, while just 41 per­cent agreed.

That wasn’t stat­ist­ic­ally dif­fer­ent from the last time the Next Amer­ica Poll meas­ured this is­sue in Oc­to­ber 2012; at that point, 55 per­cent of adults re­jec­ted that state­ment, while 42 per­cent agreed. Both of those res­ults show a shift to­ward great­er tol­er­ance since spring 2009, when the Pew Re­search Cen­ter tested the ques­tion. At that point, a slight 51 per­cent to 43 per­cent ma­jor­ity said that new­comers threatened Amer­ic­an tra­di­tions.

Yet the ques­tion of im­mig­rants’ cul­tur­al im­pact — in con­trast with their eco­nom­ic ef­fect — con­tin­ues to di­vide Amer­ic­ans across ra­cial, edu­ca­tion­al, gen­er­a­tion­al, and par­tis­an lines. In the new sur­vey, whites, par­tic­u­larly the older and blue-col­lar whites at the core of the mod­ern Re­pub­lic­an elect­or­al co­ali­tion, ex­pressed much more dis­com­fort than oth­er groups did about the cul­tur­al im­pact of im­mig­rants.

The Col­lege Board/Na­tion­al Journ­al Next Amer­ica Poll, con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, sur­veyed 1,272 adults ages 18 and older from Oct. 14-24, in Eng­lish and Span­ish, through land­lines and cell phones. It in­cludes over­samples of 245 Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, 229 His­pan­ics, and 107 Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans; the poll has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.9 per­cent­age points for the over­all sample, with lar­ger er­ror mar­gins for the sub­groups. The poll is one com­pon­ent of Na­tion­al Journ­al’s Next Amer­ica pro­ject, which ex­am­ines how chan­ging demo­graphy is chan­ging the na­tion­al agenda.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the poll found that the fast­est-grow­ing im­mig­rant groups over­whelm­ingly re­ject the no­tion that new­comers are threat­en­ing Amer­ic­an tra­di­tions. Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans dis­agreed with that state­ment by a re­sound­ing mar­gin of 71 per­cent to 25 per­cent, and His­pan­ics dis­missed it by 67 per­cent to 31 per­cent.

Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, the poll found, also re­jec­ted the idea by a com­par­able 65 per­cent to 33 per­cent. That con­tin­ued a ma­jor shift in opin­ion among blacks: Sup­port for the idea that new­comers un­der­mine Amer­ic­an val­ues has stead­ily fallen among Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans from 62 per­cent in 2009 to 47 per­cent in 2012 to only one-third now. (The be­lief that new­comers are un­der­min­ing Amer­ic­an val­ues among His­pan­ics nev­er reached nearly as high, but has also de­clined from 42 per­cent in 2009.)

Whites, though, re­mained closely di­vided on the ques­tion in the new sur­vey, with 47 per­cent agree­ing that new­comers are threat­en­ing Amer­ic­an cus­toms and val­ues and 50 per­cent dis­agree­ing. That’s a mod­est shift to­ward ac­cept­ance from 2009, when a 52 per­cent ma­jor­ity of whites saw new­comers as a threat while only 43 per­cent dis­agreed. (Com­pared with last year, the res­ults show little change among whites; at that point, 45 per­cent en­dorsed the state­ment and 54 per­cent re­jec­ted it.)

This nar­row over­all split masks sharp cleav­ages among whites that fol­low fa­mil­i­ar polit­ic­al lines. Con­sist­ently, groups cent­ral to the GOP co­ali­tion ex­pressed much more un­ease about the on­go­ing demo­graph­ic change than oth­er ele­ments of the white com­munity.

Among whites without a col­lege edu­ca­tion, a group that broke strongly for Mitt Rom­ney over Pres­id­ent Obama last fall, a 53 per­cent to 44 per­cent ma­jor­ity agreed that new ar­rivals are threat­en­ing Amer­ic­an val­ues. By con­trast, among col­lege-edu­cated whites, who di­vided more closely in the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, just 34 per­cent ac­cep­ted the state­ment; 64 per­cent re­jec­ted it.

Like­wise, a 54 per­cent to 43 per­cent ma­jor­ity of whites older than 50 viewed the new ar­rivals as a threat to Amer­ic­an val­ues; a sol­id 58 per­cent to 40 per­cent ma­jor­ity of whites young­er than 50 did not. Older whites have be­come a corner­stone of the con­tem­por­ary GOP co­ali­tion. Fi­nally, whites who identi­fy as Re­pub­lic­ans or lean to­ward the party backed the state­ment by a 55 per­cent to 43 per­cent mar­gin; whites who identi­fy as Demo­crats or lean to­ward the party re­jec­ted it by 61 per­cent to 38 per­cent.

These class and gen­er­a­tion­al dif­fer­ences were much more muted among non­whites: minor­it­ies older and young­er than 50 re­jec­ted the state­ment by a vir­tu­ally identic­al 2-1 mar­gin, and minor­it­ies without a col­lege de­gree were only slightly more sup­port­ive of the idea than minor­it­ies with one.

The con­trast­ing sen­ti­ments among whites cap­ture some of the pres­sure fa­cing Re­pub­lic­ans as they nav­ig­ate through ra­cially charged is­sues like im­mig­ra­tion re­form. While oth­er polls have found that even a ma­jor­ity of whites and Re­pub­lic­ans fa­vor a path­way to cit­izen­ship for im­mig­rants here il­leg­ally, these res­ults point to a deep­er un­ease about Amer­ica’s chan­ging face among groups on which Re­pub­lic­ans now heav­ily rely. Evid­ence from this and oth­er sur­veys sug­gest those bed­rock at­ti­tudes provide part of the found­a­tion for the res­ist­ance to gov­ern­ment spend­ing, par­tic­u­larly on trans­fer pro­grams for the poor, cent­ral to mod­ern GOP ideo­logy.

The Next Amer­ica poll found that whites that con­sider new­comers a threat to Amer­ica’s val­ues con­sist­ently ex­pressed more res­ist­ance to gov­ern­ment act­iv­ism than those who do not. For in­stance, while nearly three-fifths of whites who do not con­sider new­comers a threat said the eco­nomy would be­ne­fit from reach­ing Pres­id­ent Obama’s goal of sig­ni­fic­antly in­creas­ing the share of Amer­ic­ans with some post­sec­ond­ary de­gree, only about two-fifths of whites who are un­easy about the demo­graph­ic change agreed. Whites res­ist­ant to the change were also more likely than whites com­fort­able with it to be­lieve that tax cuts, as op­posed to in­creased edu­ca­tion spend­ing, would provide the biggest boost to their loc­al eco­nomy.

Per­haps most tellingly, whites who are res­ist­ant to the demo­graph­ic change were much less likely than whites who are com­fort­able with it to say they con­sidered the per­sist­ent in­come gaps between whites and minor­ity fam­il­ies a “ma­jor prob­lem” for the coun­try. Even more telling was the di­ver­gence on a ques­tion that gave re­spond­ents four op­tions for clos­ing that in­come gap.

Whites com­fort­able with the demo­graph­ic change split closely, with 35 per­cent say­ing the best op­tion for nar­row­ing the gap was “more per­son­al re­spons­ib­il­ity in the minor­ity com­munity,” an ad­di­tion­al 32 per­cent picked in­creas­ing the num­ber of minor­ity col­lege gradu­ates, and the fi­nal one-fourth pre­fer­ring either in­creased in­teg­ra­tion or en­hanced an­ti­discrim­in­a­tion ef­forts in the work­place. But among whites who be­lieve new­comers are threat­en­ing Amer­ic­an val­ues, only about one-fifth picked in­creas­ing minor­ity col­lege gradu­ates, and just more than one-sixth backed a civil-rights re­sponse. A sol­id 55 per­cent ma­jor­ity of these whites said the key to nar­row­ing in­come gaps is for minor­it­ies to as­sume more per­son­al re­spons­ib­il­ity.

Third in a five-part series. Click here to down­load the topline res­ults from the poll and ac­cess in your down­load folder.

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