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Survey: Americans Want Federal Government to Focus on Economy, Health Over Immigration

A newly released survey1 conducted by Morning Consult for the Bipartisan Policy Center found that voters do not believe that the federal government should prioritize using immigration policies to address the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although a majority of voters did approve of President Donald Trump’s temporary suspension of overseas green card processing, they were evenly split on whether that policy would be effective in helping the economic recovery, reflecting Americans’ conflicting views about the role of immigration in today’s economy.

Thirty-six percent of respondents believe the federal government should prioritize developing treatment and vaccines for COVID-19 above other priorities. However, immigration options remained a low priority for voters: 66% said shutting down immigration should be the fifth or sixth priority of the six we tested and 70% said allowing migrant workers to enter the United States to support the food supply should be the fifth or sixth priority of the six.

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Figure 1: Responses to Question “Thinking about the federal government's future actions in response to COVID-19, in your opinion, what level of priority should each of the following be for the federal government for the U.S. to respond and recover from COVID-19?”

Source: Morning Consult

Despite perceiving immigration as a low priority for the government during the pandemic, respondents generally approved of Trump’s suspension of green cards for non-citizens seeking to immigrate to the United States from overseas. Fifty-eight percent of respondents somewhat or strongly approved of the new executive order with only 31% somewhat or strongly disapproving of it. Although the poll found that those who strongly approved varied across demographic groups, only 28% of unemployed respondents strongly approved of the measure, the lowest percentage among all employment categories.2 Meanwhile, 43% of retired respondents and 42% of homemakers strongly approved it, the two highest percentages for this option of the employment groups surveyed.

Figure 2: Responses to Question “do you approve or disapprove of President Trump’s decision to temporarily suspend the issuance of new green cards for 60 days?

Source: Morning Consult

The complete prompt was “As you may know, President Trump recently signed an executive order temporarily suspending the issuance of new green cards for most people outside the United States for 60 days. Based on what you know, do you approve or disapprove of President Trump’s decision to temporarily suspend the issuance of new green cards for 60 days?”

However, respondents were split on whether Trump’s policy will open more jobs for American workers during the pandemic. Twenty-two percent said that the policy would be “very effective,” the same percentage as those who said it would “not be at all effective.” In the middle, 25% said it would be “somewhat effective,” 19% said it would be “not too effective” and 13% were unsure or didn’t know. Only 17% of unemployed individuals said that the policy would be very effective while 29% of self-employed respondents and 24% of retired persons said the same, showing continued divisions by employment status over the employment impact of immigrants.

Figure 3: Responses to Question “How effective, if at all, do you think President Trump’s decision to temporarily suspend the issuance of new green cards will be in opening more jobs for American workers during COVID-19?

Source: Morning Consult

The complete prompt was “Based on what you know, how effective, if at all, do you think President Trump’s decision to temporarily suspend the issuance of new green cards will be in opening more jobs for American workers during COVID-19?” Morning Consult asked this question after the one that appeared in Figure 2.

Finally, respondents were evenly split about whether immigrants would help or hurt the United States’ long-term economic recovery to COVID-19, with a plurality being neutral or unsure. As Figure 4 shows, 28% of respondents said that immigrants help with the recovery, 27% said neither help nor hurt, 26% said hurt, and 19% were unsure. Among the unemployed, 31% believed that immigrants help with economic recovery and only 23% said they hurt the economy. Conversely, 31% of retirees believed that immigrants hurt the economy, the highest percentage among employment groups.

Figure 4: Responses to Question “Based on what you know, do you think immigrants help or hurt the United States’ long-term economic recovery to COVID-19?”

Source: Morning Consult

These results show clearly that the voting public—including partisans from both parties—does not think that immigration measures should be a major part of the federal government’s response to COVID-19. Voters want the federal government to mitigate the public health emergency in the United States and focus on direct economic recovery over advancing immigration policies limiting immigration to the United States. Voters supporting these priorities include the unemployed, a finding that is significant because they are the purported beneficiaries of Trump’s executive order. While there is slightly more support for measures that expand the arrival of immigrants in agriculture and food processing, health and overall economic concerns still rank higher. Finally, the poll shows that voters do not fall into the two polarities in the debate over whether the country should open or close its borders during the pandemic. Instead, Americans have complex views about the impact immigration has on the country’s economy and the types of policies that they support on this issue.

End Notes:

1 This survey was conducted between May 6 to May 8, 2020 among a national sample of 1,987 Registered Voters. The interviews were conducted online, and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of Registered Voters based on age, educational attainment, gender, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
2 The employment categories were: Private Sector, Government, Self-Employed, Homemaker, Retired, Unemployed, and Other.

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