The Bedrock of Ordinary Americans' Immigration Views: Future Immigration Levels, Pt. 4

By Stanley Renshon on August 29, 2014

Trying to answer the question: What would Americans think about future of levels of immigration if they were given different kinds of information, researchers conducted an experiment. They gave a portion of their larger survey samples (1) no new information — that was the control condition; (2) information about the estimates of current numbers of both legal immigrants and illegal immigrants; and (3) these estimates of legal immigrants and illegal migrants coupled with the information that about 40 percent of both groups living in America were from Spanish-speaking backgrounds.

The second option was geared to see if anxiety and "threat" were raised by "real" numbers alone. The third option was geared to see "priming" — that is, pointing out and underscoring that the ethnic make-up of many legal and illegal immigrants could cause Americans to feel more anxiety and "threat."

This latter condition is a fairly straightforward reflection of the accusation that some Americans are "anti-immigrant" because of deeper racial and ethnic prejudice against the "other," as the Left puts it.

The answers were fairly similar to what happened when Americans were informed about the "real" numbers of foreign-born and illegal migrants in the population — not much change.

More specifically (p. 17, emphasis added):

Here, as in the "correcting" experiment, there are few differences across the experimental conditions. In two cases, the effects are in the expected direction. The proportion who want to decrease immigration increases from 48 to 56 percent across the three conditions. The proportion who want to delay eligibility for five years increases from 60 percent in the "control" and "numbers" condition to 67 percent in the "numbers plus origin" condition, suggesting that mentioning the proportion of immigrants from Mexico does have some effect. ... However, they are substantively rather small. Moreover, the experimental treatments did not affect the perceived seriousness of illegal immigration or the preferred policy solution. Thus, just as potentially reassuring [sic] information about immigrant populations failed to mitigate perceptions of threat in the "correcting" experiment, potentially ominous information failed to exacerbate perceptions of threat, regardless of whether that information concerned immigrant numbers or immigrant nationality.

Leaving aside for a moment the authors' revealing view that giving Americans accurate information about the numbers of immigrants in the American population would be "potentially reassuring", their future immigration levels experiment was also very revealing.

Apparently, giving Americans more "accurate" information about levels of legal and illegal immigration, as this research did, does not increase their desire for more immigration, nor does it affect their preference for keeping the current level steady or reducing it — a response that could legitimately be combined under the category: "No more."

Second, Americans' preference for similar, less, or "no more" levels of immigration has nothing to do with the nationality of the immigrants. It is not a matter of racism. It is not a matter of nativism. It is not a matter of being against diversity, as the Mexican president recently charged in a visit to California.

Americans have simply reached the point at which, although they continue to support immigration, they don't want more of it.

It is a constant, firmly held belief that should be the basis for any real immigration reform.

Next: A Gratuitous Insult from the Mexican President