Democrats move left on immigration, GOP to the right

Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop Wednesday in Iowa. Trump has built much of his campaign around opposition to illegal immigration at a time when GOP views on immigration issus have hardened.

(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

American views on immigration have grown more polarized, with Republicans taking harder-line positions as Democrats and independents take more liberal stands, a new poll indicates.

The shift can be seen on several issues, including whether children born in the U.S. to people in the country illegally should be eligible for citizenship. Over the last nine years, Democrats have become steadily more supportive of so-called birthright citizenship, which is guaranteed by the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Republicans have become slightly more opposed to it.

Just more than half of Republicans favor amending the Constitution to end birthright citizenship, according to a new poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Donald Trump is among the leading Republicans who have called recently for ending birthright citizenship, although Trump has argued the change could be made without amending the Constitution.

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Fewer than 1 in 4 Democrats back an end to birthright citizenship, the poll found. That’s a notable shift since 2006, when slightly more than 1 in 3 Democrats took that position. Among independents, 37% would back a constitutional amendment, down from 44% in 2006. Blacks and Latinos have both become more opposed to an amendment, as have Americans younger than 50.

A similar shift has taken place on the issue of building a fence along the entire U.S. border with Mexico. Overall public opinion has remained stable, with just less than half of Americans backing the idea. But support has grown in the GOP, from 65% in a 2007 Pew survey to 73% now. Democrats have gone in the opposite direction, from 37% support to 29%.

Despite the intense campaign debate among Republicans over immigration, two-thirds of Republicans continue to say that they believe that at least some immigrants in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to stay. One-third say they should not be allowed to stay, the position taken by Trump and several other GOP presidential candidates.

Just under 4 in 10 Republicans back allowing some illegal immigrants to obtain citizenship, while about 1 in 4 support giving them status as permanent residents. Among Democrats, 80% back legal status, with 57% backing citizenship. Three-quarters of independents also back legal status, with just less than half backing citizenship.


The Pew survey was taken Sept. 22-27 among 1,502 Americans age 18 and older. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

For more on politics and policy, follow @DavidLauter


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