Seismic Shift in Economist/YouGov Immigration Polling

Significant increase in the importance of immigration among Blacks, Hispanics, and the well-off

By Andrew R. Arthur on November 19, 2021

Between November 14 and 16, UK newspaper The Economist and polling outfit YouGov conducted a poll of 1,500 U.S. citizens. The results reflect a seismic shift on the issue of immigration as compared to a similar poll conducted just over a month before, between October 9 and 12. The reasons for that shift are not entirely clear, but likely reflect strong concerns about President Biden’s border policies and current economic conditions.

In the October polling, 8 percent of respondents identified “immigration” as the most important issue to them, making it the fifth leading issue out of 14 polled. Immigration trailed “healthcare” (18 percent), “climate change and the environment” (15 percent), “jobs and the economy” (14 percent), and “taxes and government spending” (10 percent) in that poll.

By the November polling, “immigration” had jumped to fourth place as the leading issue among respondents, tied with “taxes and government spending” at 9 percent. One through four this time around were “healthcare” (again, 18 percent), “jobs and the economy” (16 percent), and “climate change and the environment” (once more at 15 percent).

That one-point shift in the importance of immigration is not that significant, but the background data is, particularly with respect to certain demographic groups.

In the October polling, only 2 percent of Blacks and 6 percent of Hispanics identified “immigration” as their most important issue. By the November poll, these percentages had doubled, to 4 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

Hispanics and Blacks were both concerned about healthcare and jobs. At 21 percent, “healthcare” as the most important issue among Blacks was the highest single issue identified, across all issues and demographic groups. Nineteen percent of Hispanics also listed “healthcare” as a top issue, and the leading one for that demographic group.

For Hispanics, that issue was tied at the top with “jobs and the economy”, again at 19 percent, an issue that was most important to 18 percent of Black Americans. The second leading issue for Blacks was “civil rights”, at 19 percent.

Then, there was the separate question of how important immigration was to respondents, and there the shift was even more marked.

In the October poll, 48 percent of total respondents stated that immigration was “very important” to them. By November, more than half (52 percent) of respondents identified immigration as “very important”. In both polls, 31 percent identified immigration as being “somewhat important”, meaning that more than eight out of 10 (83 percent) of November respondents identified immigration as being important to them.

By contrast, the percentage of respondents who identified immigration as being “not very important” or “unimportant” fell, month to month.

In the October poll, 14 percent of respondents stated that immigration was not very important, a number that dropped to 13 percent in November. This month, just 4 percent of respondents stated that immigration was unimportant, compared to 6 percent the month before.

Again, the internal numbers are even more telling.

The percentage of white males with college degrees who identified immigration as being very important jumped from 49 percent in October to 53 percent in November. Among college-educated women, the shift was even starker: In October, just 44 percent said immigration was very important to them, while in November 55 percent did — an 11-point spike.

Then, there are Black and Hispanic respondents. In October, just 41 percent of Black Americans said that immigration was very important to them. By November, that had increased to 52 percent, again, an 11-point rise.

Among Hispanics, 46 percent of respondents said that immigration was very important in October, but by November almost six in 10, 59 percent did — a 13-point jump.

Other internals are just as significant. In October, respondents making $100,000 or more were rather blasé about the importance of immigration. Just 42 percent of them said that it was “very important”, but by November, a whopping 57 percent of them felt that way — a 15-point increase.

While there was a one-point increase among respondents making less than $50,000 (45 percent to 46 percent in November), there was none among wage earners in between, for whom immigration has long been a very important issue — 56 percent in both polls.

Among Republicans who viewed immigration as a “very important” issue, there was a modest one-point increase (68 percent in October, 69 percent in November), while the percentage of Independents who viewed immigration as very important increased two points, from 47 percent in October to 49 percent in November.

Then, there were the Democrats. Just 38 percent of them said that immigration was very important in October, which jumped six points to 44 percent in November. Counting the 39 percent of Democrats who viewed immigration as “somewhat important”, 83 percent of the president’s fellow partisans view immigration as an important issue.

Immigration has also become more important among urban voters. In October, just 37 percent of them said that immigration was very important. By November, that had jumped to 54 percent — a 17-point rise in a month.

What explains these shifts? Undoubtedly, the late October release of dismal government statistics showing that Border Patrol apprehended more illegal migrants in FY 2021 than in any prior fiscal year ever played a significant role. The president’s contentions in March that this is just a seasonal surge notwithstanding, people aren’t buying it in November.

Economic conditions also likely played a role. The economy may be improving under certain metrics, but it does not feel like the United States is on an economic upswing. With inflation rising at a 6.2 percent rate in October and supply-chain disruptions rampant, Americans may be growing concerned about our ability to accommodate immigration without limits.

Potential job displacement caused by some 900,000 aliens who entered the United States illegally last fiscal year and who were able to remain in this country (probably indefinitely) likely also spurred anxieties among less-skilled and less-educated American workers (citizens and lawfully admitted aliens) who are in direct competition with those migrants for employment.

Similarly, the effects of approximately 125,000 unaccompanied alien children apprehended at the border in FY 2021 who were (or will soon be) released into the United States are probably being felt in schools across the United States, and in local emergency rooms as well. Kids get sick, and when they do illegal parents without health insurance often use the local ER as the primary source for care.

My colleague Rob Law reported on November 9 that “the GOP intends to highlight immigration as they attempt to take back control of the House of Representatives.” Looking at this latest poll, if I were the congressional Republicans, I would be highlighting the president’s performance on immigration, too.