Most Republicans and Democrats agree: Immigrants make the U.S. a better place to live

Several hundred people marched in downtown Los Angeles in support of comprehensive immigration reform.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

In California, a majority of Democratic and Republican voters have found something to agree on: Immigrants make the United States a better place to live.

More than 80% of registered voters in the state concur with that opinion, according to the latest UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll conducted for the Los Angeles Times. About 92% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans are in agreement.

“Lots and lots of people here are transplants or descendants of immigrants,” said Cristina Mora, co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies. “The idea of an immigrant in California is different. Here, we understand immigrants as part of Silicon Valley, as students, as entrepreneurs -- as part of a wide and varied landscape.”


The state has long been at odds with the Trump administration over immigration issues, as the president continues to push for a new wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and cracks down on asylum seekers.

California legislators have continued the state’s expansion of rights and protections for immigrants who enter the country illegally, passing laws signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom allowing immigrants to serve on government boards and commissions and banning arrests for immigration violations in courthouses across the state. Newsom also signed a bill Friday that bans private prisons and immigrant detention facilities from operating in California.

The Institute of Governmental Studies poll found less consensus among California voters on how immigrants are treated. Some 56% of voters believe that immigrants are treated unfairly in the U.S. Just 28% of voters disagreed.

Differences in views on how immigrants are treated also persist along generational and political lines.

While 66% of millennials believe that immigrants are unfairly treated, voters in the boomer-plus generation -- those over 54 -- are more divided, with 49% agreeing, 34% disagreeing and 17% having no opinion, according to the poll.

Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, an expert in immigration at UCLA, said he has watched the generational divide unfold in his classroom. In the 25 years that he’s taught at the university, he said, he’s noticed a marked shift in the “radical acceptance of immigrants.”


“When I started teaching there, it was the time of Prop 187. That was those boomers voting,” he said, referring to the controversial 1994 ballot measure denying public services, such as public education and healthcare, to people in the country illegally. “We just had a class where we’re reading the argument that the Republican politicians made about Prop 187 and the young students were shocked, across the spectrum of race and class.”

Demographic changes in California likely have contributed to this generational divide, Hinojosa-Ojeda added. Still, the Institute of Governmental Studies poll shows that nearly 53% of white voters believe immigrants are treated unfairly.

“It’s not just Latinos,” Hinojosa-Ojeda said.

Louis DeSipio, a political science professor at UC Irvine, agreed, asserting that Republicans’ response to immigrants represented a “snap back” from the party’s 1994 stance.

“It really reflects a change among conservatives in California,” he said, adding that the results were “a pretty striking finding.”

DeSipio was also surprised by the response from California voters who identified as having no party preference -- 83% of voters in that group said immigrants make the U.S. a better place.

“Some are conservatives who have moved away from the Republicans and Trump’s rhetoric,” he said. “That’s a growing group.” In some California counties, no party preference is actually the largest group, he added.

Even wider than the generational divide is how voters’ views on treatment of immigrants diverge based on their party registration and political ideology. About 79% of Democrats believe that immigrants are unfairly treated, while just 9% disagree.

By contrast, only 14% of Republicans believe immigrants are treated unfairly; 65% say they are not. Similar differences exist among the state’s liberals and conservatives, with liberals generally maintaining that immigrants are unfairly treated and conservatives feeling otherwise.


Most voters don’t feel that they or a family member will miss out on a job or other opportunities because of immigrants, according to the poll.

By a nearly 3-to-1 margin, California voters say it is unlikely that they or another member of their family will miss out on opportunities -- such as a job or promotion, getting into college or receiving services -- because an immigrant receives the opportunity instead. These beliefs are tied to voters’ political views, the poll found, rather than generational or gender differences.

While majorities of the state’s Republican and strongly conservative voters believe that they are likely to miss out on such opportunities because of immigrants, only small proportions of Democrats and liberals agree. College graduates are also slightly less likely than non-college graduates to express concerns about missing out on job and other opportunities because of immigrants.

The poll surveyed a random sample of 4,527 of the state’s registered voters from Sept. 13-18. It was conducted online in English and Spanish.