top of page

Two Surveys on Immigration

July 2014


There are two recently conducted surveys -- by CNN and the Public Religion Research Institute -- which were summarized at CNN and in the Washington Post.  See links to these surveys below.  They provide insight into opinions on immigration issues and focus at least part of the survey questions on the issue of how to deal with Central American children at the US border.  Responses to the two survey questionnaires provide some clear indications of public opinion that policy makers should take into account when trying to address issues arising from the influx of Central American children.  First, the way the questions are worded has an impact, I believe, on the response rate and while the polls could appear contradictory, they are relatively aligned once you look at the overall survey and understand what is being asked.


Public Religion Research Institute Survey - A random survey of 1,026 adults (over age 18) was conducted between July 23 - 27, 2014.  Eight questions were asked and the interviewers were bi-lingual (English and Spanish).  The responses were disaggregated by age, sex, geographic location, race, education and telephone usage.  The results have an error of +/- 3.1% at a 95% confidence level.   Question #5 in the survey is the one that is being highlighted in the press (see Washington Post):  


Which statement comes closest to your views about what the U.S. should do about the children who are currently arriving from Central America without their parents?  We should… (1) Offer shelter and support while beginning a process to determine whether they should be deported or allowed to stay in the U.S.; or (2) Deport them immediately back to their home countries.  


With the phrasing of the question in stark terms, it is not surprising that over 70% of Americans responded that the children should be sheltered.  The Public Religion Research Institute Survey did not provide disaggregated information on responses by age, race, sex, etc.  So it was not easy to determine what the thoughts were of different segments of the population.  “The most notable finding in the survey is the broad bipartisan, cross-religious agreement that the unaccompanied children arriving from Central America should be seen as refugees and offered support while their cases are being reviewed,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO.


CNN/ORC International Survey - A random telephone survey of 1,012 adults was conducted during July 18 - 20, 2014.  Thirty-two questions were asked and the responses were disaggregagted by sex, age, political view and geographic location.  The questions covered a wider range of immigration issues but did focus on the Central America children situation as part of the survey.  Questions 30, 31 and 32 provided insight into the mind set of different segments of the American public.  Taking these views into account could be important to policy makers as they address the Central America children issue.   See question number 30 below:


As you may know, under current U.S. law, unaccompanied children from Central America who illegally come to the U.S. remain in the U.S. for months or years until their cases are heard by a U.S. immigration official. Do you favor or oppose a bill that would make it easier for the U.S. to deport all unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally?


 I believe this wording of the question had an impact on the responses provided.  The use of phrases "remain in the US for months or years" versus legislation that would "make it easier ... to deport all unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally" probably was the reason for what appeared a stronger opinion in favor of deporting the children.   Based on this question, 62% of the respondents indicated they favored legislation that would make it easier for the US to deport these children.  But in question 31, a majority (51%) of the respondents believed that most of the children were refugees.  In question 32, an even higher majority (57%) indicated they were willing to have the Central American children located near them.  The critically important part of the survey for policy makers was the breakdown of the people who were emphatic that the children not be relocated in their communities.  According to the survey results on question 32, it would probably not be a good idea to have the children located in facilities near high populations of conservative, relatively older, Midwest communities.  The responses by conservatives on willingness to receive the children into their communities was a whopping 63% opposed to the children coming to their town.  The next closest on the unwillingness scale was the 65 years plus demographic and, finally, the Midwest was seen as the region least welcoming to the children (50% were unwilling to accept them).

The policy makers in charge of planning where the children will be relocated should use US Census data to map communities that will have less oppostion to their arrival.  Using survey data, the areas most unlikely to be receptive to the Central American children are those areas with older populations (> 55 years), located in the Midwest, with a large politically conservative population, and belong to mainstream Protestant, Minority Protestant and Catholic religious denominations.


See the graph on right for breakdown of survey responses based on various respondent characteristics.  Young, Democratic, mainline Protestant -- are the characteristics of a more receptive community for placing the Central American children.


The slides below provide a mapping of the over 55 years of age demographic represented by red dots (each dot represents a specific number of over 55 residents).  Given a lower receptivity in this population according to both surveys, policy makers should avoid community push back on placement of children by not selecting communities with high percentage of older and more conservative residents.  Grayson county Virginia might not be a good candidate for a  Central American children's shelter -- conservative and relatively older population.

bottom of page