As the immigration debate rages on in the race to 2016, New Jerseyans increasingly support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently working in the United States, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Sixty-four percent of residents now believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay and apply for U.S. citizenship, an increase of 12 points since last asked by the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in 2012. Another 15 percent say they should be allowed to stay as temporary guest workers but not be able to apply, down seven points. Eighteen percent think they should be required to leave the country, a decline of four points.
“Last night, Donald Trump claimed no one was talking about immigration until he did, but here in New Jersey, immigration – both legal and not – has been a hot topic for years,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “In Rutgers-Eagleton polls in the past two decades, New Jerseyans have solidly supported legal status and then citizenship for immigrants. This is not surprising, given that New Jersey is one of the most diverse states and that one in five residents is an immigrant.”
The personal importance of immigration to New Jerseyans has increased over time as well: 14 percent now say it is the most important issue to them, up nine points since 2012, and another 29 percent say it is one of a few very important issues. Thirty-nine percent say it is somewhat important (down seven points), and 17 percent say it is not important to them at all (down three points).
More New Jersey residents also have a positive opinion of immigrants’ impact on everyday life today than they did in 2012. But even with these increases, 41 percent say the number of immigrants in the Garden State is too high, up five points since 2012; another 44 percent say it is just right. Moreover, immigration remains a partisan issue, with notable differences between the two parties and even among Republicans, specifically among Donald Trump supporters compared to the GOP as a whole.
Results are from a statewide poll of 867 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from July 25 to August 1. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.
Immigration is an especially personal issue within certain demographics. Three-quarters of residents who identify as Hispanic support citizenship, compared to 61 percent of non-Hispanics. Similar patterns exist for those not born in the United States and those whose parents immigrated to this country.
These same groups are also more likely, by double digits, to say immigration is personally important to them: 40 percent of Hispanics, 30 percent of foreign-born residents and 21 percent of those with foreign-born parents say it is the most important issue, with the majority of each group saying the issue is at least one of a few of their top concerns.
Interaction with immigrants in daily life also has an impact: support for citizenship and personal importance increases along with frequency of interaction. Over seven in 10 who say immigrants make their neighborhood, workplace, or the state a better place also favor citizenship.
Younger generations are much more supportive of citizenship – though not more likely to say the issue is important – than older ones, as support steadily declines with age.
Importance of immigration does not necessarily imply support of citizenship, however. Among supporters, 15 percent say it is the most important issue for them, and another 25 percent say it is one of few. But those who favor deportation also feel strongly about it, with 16 percent saying immigration is their top issue and another 38 percent saying it is one of the most important.
Partisans of all stripes support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States, though to varying degrees: Democrats at 78 percent, independents at 57 percent and even Republicans at 51 percent. But Republicans and independents are also more likely to say undocumented immigrants should be forced to leave the country, at 28 percent and 21 percent respectively, while just 10 percent of Democrats say the same.
Those favorable toward former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton resemble Democrats in general, with 72 percent supporting citizenship. Those who like Gov. Chris Christie likewise resemble Republicans in general. But Donald Trump supporters are notably more negative about welcoming immigrants: 46 percent favor citizenship, 17 percent prefer legal status, and 35 percent choose deportation – the highest of any demographic.
“Republicans as a whole have come a long way on the issue since we last polled this in 2012, when they were mostly split over citizenship, with 37 percent expressing support and another 33 percent favoring deportation,” said Koning. “The double-digit increase to majority support in two years is remarkable. But of course, there are many different views about immigration reform on the national stage right now – especially among contenders on the Republican side like Donald Trump. And we see these differences play out when we specifically look at Trump supporters’ attitudes on citizenship, which are more conservative than the rest of the party.”
Republicans are slightly more negative regarding other aspects of the immigration issue. While there are minimal party differences in personal importance, just over half of Republicans feel the number of immigrants in the Garden State is too high, compared to 35 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of independents. Those in Trump’s corner are especially likely to say the number of immigrants in the state is too high, at 58 percent, compared to Christie supporters or the GOP as a whole.
Republicans are also less likely to say that immigrants have a positive impact on different parts of daily life. Nineteen percent say immigrants make their neighborhood better, compared to 39 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of independents. GOPers feel somewhat similarly about the workplace, with about a quarter believing immigrants make it better, versus almost four in 10 of other partisans. As for New Jersey itself, 29 percent of Republicans view immigrants’ influence positively, compared to 40 percent of independents and 49 percent of Democrats. Republicans say they interact with immigrants on a daily basis to a lesser extent than other partisans – at 52 percent, versus 59 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents.
The overall increase in support for immigration and importance of the issue among New Jerseyans may stem from their frequent interaction with immigrants and their increased belief that immigrants have a positive effect on society. Six in 10 say they interact with someone from another country every day; another two in 10 say a few times a week. The remaining two in 10 interact with immigrants a few times a month or less.
Thirty-two percent feel people born outside the U.S. have made the quality of life in their neighborhoods better (up six points), while 49 percent say immigrants have not had much of an impact (down 12 points); another 13 percent say immigrants have actually made their neighborhoods worse (up three points). New Jerseyans feel similarly about their place of work, with 36 percent saying immigrants have made it better, a 10-point increase since 2012. Another 43 percent say they have had no effect here (down 11 points), and just nine percent say they have made the workplace worse.
Forty-one percent of residents believe immigrants have made New Jersey as a whole better, a nine-point increase. Twenty-nine percent say they do not have an impact on the state (down six points), and 21 percent say immigrants make the state worse, a drop of four points.