In April and May 2021, Morning Consult and the Bipartisan Policy Center conducted a two-wave survey to try and answer some critical questions around immigration reform efforts with a new administration and narrow Democratic control of Congress. Specifically, we wanted to know: what immigration policies does the public prioritize and what policies would they be willing to accept from the other side or give up from their own side, to get something done?1
Figure 1 shows the table of immigration policy priorities we asked respondents to accept or drop, based on the policies identified as most important by respondents from each party (the policy priorities were randomized for the survey). There was some overlap between the top policies identified by Democrats and Republicans.
Reforms that focus on legal immigration could be a pathway for bipartisanship.
While Democrats and Republicans seem divided on many immigration issues, some consensus exists on less controversial matters such as legal immigration that supports the U.S. economy. As shown in Figure 2, Democrats, Independents, and Republicans were more likely to compromise on the issue of “providing visas for immigrants supporting U.S. economy by filling positions where companies cannot find U.S. workers.” For this policy, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents ranked this priority in the middle (i.e., closest to 100), meaning this priority is neither the most important nor the least important to the party.2 Consequently, there is more room for policymakers to work together on this issue since none of the parties are unwilling to compromise on this particular policy. The issue of “providing visas for immigrants investing in research and innovation for future growth of the U.S. economy” was also in the middle and less controversial for all three party identifications.
Figure 2: Heat Map of Utility Scores for Immigration Policy Priorities Across Party Lines
Given the 50-50 split in Congress this year, some level of alignment among noncontroversial immigration issues might be an effective avenue for movement. Absent reconciliation or eliminating the filibuster, Democrats in the Senate will require at least some Republicans to support their immigration bills. If public opinion is to be considered, bipartisan support might be favorable for work visa and skilled immigration reforms, even if they do not represent the highest priority of either party.
BPC has chronicled successful bipartisan state-level legislative efforts addressing similar workforce concerns such as demand for workers in key state sectors and the need to regulate state industries. Among immigration bills that have received votes so far this year in Congress, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act has received the greatest amount of bipartisan support. This analysis further demonstrates that on workforce and economic issues, there is a level of bipartisan support among the public.
There are key policy differences between Republicans who identify more with former President Donald Trump than with the party.
As shown in Figure 3, when asked whether they identified more with the Republican Party or the former president, two-thirds of respondents (64%) identified more with the party while one-third (31%) identified more with former President Trump.
Figure 3: Do Your Political Views Align More with the Republican Party or Former President Donald Trump?
The two groups, the Trump-aligned and the party-aligned, had differences in how they prioritized immigration policies. As shown in Figure 4, party-aligned Republicans placed higher importance on immigration policies granting temporary and permanent economic visas than Trump-aligned Republicans. Interestingly, party-aligned Republicans also placed higher importance on issues of allowing temporary or permanent refuge to those living in the United States for many years after fleeing persecution. Respondents that identify with Donald Trump ranked this priority as one of the least important to them.
Figure 4: Heat Map of Immigration Policy Preferences for Those Who Identify with the Republican Party vs. Donald Trump
While Republicans may be more aligned with each other than with Democrats, there is still a sizable Republican bloc who may be persuaded to work across the aisle on specific immigration policies.
Republicans are less willing to accept Democratic priorities than to drop one of theirs to get to compromise.
Although neither Democrats nor Republicans were likely to compromise on their highest priorities, Republicans were less likely to accept a Democratic priority than to drop one of their own at the negotiating table.
For example, among the top seven immigration policy priorities for Republicans, Democrats were most likely to accept (52%) increasing visas for those who can support the U.S. economy through filling positions where companies have been unable to find enough U.S. workers. Only 18% of Republicans were willing to drop that priority to get compromise, showing strong support from the right. On the flipside, among the top seven immigration policy priorities for Democrats, Republicans are most willing to accept a path to citizenship, at 42%, while only 14% of Democrats would be willing to drop that policy priority to achieve compromise. Further, among Democratic priorities, Democratic partisans were most willing to compromise by dropping increasing visas for research and innovation (19%) or for filling positions (20%).
This means that if Republicans want to pass legislation that would increase economic-based visas for foreign workers, they will find that a majority of Democrats are willing to drop one of their own policy priorities as part of a compromise. Across the aisle, however, for Democrats to pass legislation that would provide legal status to the unauthorized and a means to earn citizenship under certain conditions, less than half (42%) of Republicans are willing to compromise and drop one of their priorities to move the reforms ahead.
Respondents who have heard more about the recent border news have less support for the idea that migrants can help with economic recovery post-COVID-19.
The survey found that the share of adults who say immigrants hurt the United States’ long-term economic recovery from COVID-19 has increased from 25% to 40% (+15%) since May of 2020, based on BPC/Morning Consult’s previous polling. Additionally, as shown in Figure 5, those who have heard more about the situation at the border in the past two weeks are more likely to say immigrants hurt the United States’ long-term economic recovery to COVID-19 (46% vs. 26%).3
Figure 5: Do You Think Immigrants Help or Hurt the United States’ Long-Term Economic Recovery from COVID-19?
This is important data for both policymakers and the administration to recognize, as it reveals that the American public’s perception of immigrants and their role in the U.S. economy is strongly correlated to how they perceive the current situation at the southwest border. If the White House hopes to change the public’s mind and garner support for immigration, addressing the current situation at the border is paramount.
Hispanic adults’ immigration policy priorities differ from the overall adult population.
Overall, Hispanic Democrats (26%) are less likely than Democrats overall (35%) to rank immigration as the least important issue for Congress to address, although equally as likely to rank immigration as the most important issue (8% vs. 7%). Hispanic Republicans (49%) are slightly less likely than Republicans overall (54%) to rank the economy as the most important issue, but equally likely to rank immigration as the most important (27%).
Importantly, policies about security (i.e., removing unauthorized immigrants or restricting unauthorized immigration) are less important to Hispanic adults than all adults, and policies about providing temporary or permanent asylum or protection for refugees are generally more important to Hispanic adults than adults overall. For example, among the most important policy priorities for adults overall, the 2nd most important priority: “Prevent immigrants not authorized to enter the U.S. under immigration laws from migrating at the border”), is ranked only 7th among Hispanic adults.
Finally, among Democratic/Hispanic Democratic top priorities, Hispanic Republicans are slightly more willing to accept them than Republicans overall. In addition, among Democratic/Hispanic Democratic top priorities, Hispanic Democrats are generally more willing to drop their own party’s policies than Democrats overall to get to agreement with Republicans. This is an important point for policymakers to understand, as it indicates that Hispanics are more willing to support compromise for certain reforms to move forward.
Partisanship remains strong on immigration issues and the latest BPC/Morning Consult poll aligns with other national polls showing that Democrats and Republicans differ intensely on their highest policy priorities. However, on issues that are less of a priority, there may be more openness to bipartisanship and agreement. Strategies of “piecemeal” rather than comprehensive legislation may therefore have a better chance of passage. Expanding legal immigration to support the economy and fill jobs has broad support, but current events at the border still affect overall support for immigrants. Finally, there are differences between Trump-aligned and party-aligned Republicans on these issues, suggesting there are avenues to work across the aisle on legislation.
1 Methodology: Wave 1 of the survey was conducted between April 2-6, 2021 among a sample of 2,200 adults and between April 1-5 among a sample of 1,000 Hispanic adults. Wave 2 of the survey was conducted between May 1-3, 2021 among a sample of 2,200 adults and between April 30-May 3, 2021 among a sample of 1,000 Hispanic adults. The interviews were conducted online, and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on age, educational attainment, gender, race, and region, and Hispanic data was weighted to approximate a target sample of Hispanic adults based on age, educational attainment, gender, and region. Results from the adult sample have a margin of error of +/- 2%, and results among Hispanic adults have a margin of error of +/-3%. The survey was conducted in two “waves”. The Wave 1 survey utilized a “MaxDiff” analysis, where respondents were asked to make trade-offs between immigration priorities in order to develop a ranking of importance. This exercise forced respondents to cycle through the 15 tested immigration policy trade-off prompts, where they had to select their most important and least important immigration policies for legislators to prioritize. From the responses to many individual trade-off prompts, Morning Consult calculated an average utility score for all policies based on their rankings from lowest to highest. For this analysis, the base utility score is set at100 as the middle. That score is then used to compare the relative importance of other policy options. For example, a utility score of 200 implies that respondents are twice as likely to select the issue area as being the most important as the average and a score of 50 suggests the survey respondents select the option as most important half as often.
2 A score above 100 indicates a greater importance placed on the policy, while lower scores indicate lower importance placed on a particular policy.
3 This data is from Wave 1 of the survey, which was conducted from April 2-6, 2021. During that time period, the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border was featured prominently in the news, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection data had just been released showing more than 18,000 unaccompanied children had been encountered in the month of March.