Apr 25, 2024 - Politics & Policy
Axios Vibes

Exclusive poll: America warms to mass deportations

Share of Americans who say they support mass deportations of undocumented immigrants
Data: The Harris Poll; Chart: Axios Visuals

Half of Americans — including 42% of Democrats — say they'd support mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, according to a new Axios Vibes survey by The Harris Poll.

  • And 30% of Democrats — as well as 46% of Republicans — now say they'd end birthright citizenship, something guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

Why it matters: Americans are open to former President Trump's harshest immigration plans, spurred on by a record surge of illegal border crossings and a relentless messaging war waged by Republicans.

  • President Biden is keenly aware the crisis threatens his re-election. He's sought to flip the script by accusing Trump of sabotaging Congress' most conservative bipartisan immigration bill in decades.
  • But when it comes to blame, Biden so far has failed to shift the narrative: 32% of respondents say his administration is "most responsible" for the crisis, outranking any other political or structural factor.

Axios Vibe Check: Amid a record number of border crossings, nearly two-thirds of Americans said illegal immigration is a real crisis, not a politically driven media narrative.

What they're saying: "I was surprised at the public support for large-scale deportations," said Mark Penn, chairman of The Harris Poll and a former pollster for President Clinton.

  • "I think they're just sending a message to politicians: 'Get this under control,' " he said, calling it a warning to Biden that "efforts to shift responsibility for the issue to Trump are not going to work."

Zoom in: Trump has vowed to carry out the "largest domestic deportation operation in American history," eyeing sweeping raids and detention camps in a plan that would target millions of undocumented immigrants.

  • Americans typically aren't eager to deport immigrants who have put down roots in the U.S. But the poll of 6,251 U.S. adults suggests that the dynamic may be changing amid rising fears about crime and violence.
  • Trump has fanned those fears at every opportunity, campaigning on false claims of a "migrant crime wave" and declaring that immigrants are "poisoning the blood of our country."

When asked to identify their greatest concern around illegal immigration, Americans most frequently cited:

  1. Increased crime rates, drugs, and violence (21%).
  2. The additional costs to taxpayers (18%).
  3. Risk of terrorism and national security (17%).

Between the lines: The survey found discrepancies between Americans' perceptions of immigration and the reality established by data.

  • 64% wrongly believe immigrants receive more in welfare and benefits than they pay in taxes.
  • 56% wrongly believe illegal immigration is linked to spiking U.S. crime rates.

Reality check: Individual instances of violent crime by undocumented individuals drive headlines. But data doesn't show that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes.

The big picture: The survey still found Americans strongly support immigration as long as it is lawful. "Illegal" immigration is what's giving people anxiety.

  • 58% said they support expanding legal pathways for orderly immigration, while 46% said asylum seekers should be protected if their cases are legitimate.
  • 68% said illegal immigration causes major problems in communities, while only 27% said the same about legal immigration.
  • And 65% of Americans think the U.S. should make it easier for anyone seeking a better life to enter legally so they don't need to enter illegally.

The bottom line: "The tradeoff here in the poll is, people would take expanded legal immigration if they saw there's a crackdown on the border," Penn said.

  • That's not out of the question for Biden, who's still considering a dramatic executive order to stem illegal border crossings.

Methodology: The findings in this Axios Vibes survey by The Harris Poll are based on a nationally representative sample of 6,251 U.S. adults conducted online, March 29-31; April 5-7; and April 12-14, 2024.

  • The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the data for this population is accurate to within +/- 1.5 percentage points using a 95% confidence level.
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