A March 7 story from Bloomberg Businessweek reported on a new poll that surveyed Americans on immigration. The Bloomberg lede was that 61 percent of Americans believe that “continued immigration into the country jeopardizes the United States.”
The full survey, commissioned by “global management consulting firm” A.T. Kearney and a market research company The NPD Group, will be released later this month. Presumably, the toplines and methodology will be made public and make for an interesting read. In the meantime, a couple of things stand out in the Bloomberg story.
The first is that the term “Americans” is used to describe the respondents, not citizens, or registered or likely voters. In most polls, that term usually refers to anyone over the age of 18 in the United States who agreed to answer the survey questions. This may include non-U.S. citizens and even those who are not legal U.S. residents. Polls, such as those regularly conducted by Rasmussen, generally survey only likely voters, who strongly support increased enforcement and overwhelmingly opposed the Gang of Eight bill that would have doubled legal immigration and guest worker admissions. This distinction is important since Americans won’t elect the next President and Congress, U.S. citizens who vote will. If only likely voters had been queried by the Kearney/NPD poll, the percentage of respondents expressing anxiety about immigration flows likely would have been even higher.
The other notable aspect of the Bloomberg story is that the question, as reported, asked about total immigration, not just illegal immigration. That Americans would be concerned about legal admissions apparently came as a shock to the story’s writer, Peter Coy, who presented this finding as a sign of the coming political apocalypse, heralded by the emergence of Donald Trump as the GOP frontrunner.
The sophomoric headline “Americans Really Don’t Like Immigration, New Survey Finds” likely wasn’t chosen by Coy, but it does convey the lack of effort he put into contextualizing the survey result. Despite citing two previous polls reflecting similar attitudes toward immigration policy, Coy chose to present the new finding as a frightening turn in public opinion. His only quotes are comments by Paul Laudicina, the chairman of the Global Business Policy Council, a subdivision of A.T. Kearney (guess where it comes down on immigration?), who said that the poll result bears out “Americans’ immigration fears” that make them “vulnerable to jingoistic sloganeering.”
Notwithstanding that Laudicina doesn’t understand, nor apparently does Coy, the proper meaning of jingoism, the claim that Americans are fearful of immigration has no evidentiary, even anecdotal, support. Americans overwhelmingly favor continued legal immigration to the United States, albeit at a reduced level. Concern among Americans over the current immigration situation doesn’t come from fear, but is a rational, reasonable response to a system that is totally out of sync with the national interest.
Americans may harbor legitimate fears about the failure of their government to keep them safe from foreign terrorists, or to protect their economic interests by enacting and enforcing a sensible immigration system, but it is anger, not fear, that is the dominant emotion expressed by Americans these days, and with good reason. As The New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall correctly points out, “the economic basis for voter anger has been building over forty years.” This is because wages for working Americans have been stagnant since the 1970s, and structural unemployment that had been a growing problem for the last three decades became acute during the Great Recession. The employment situation is better now than it was in 2009, but tens of millions of Americans are still struggling and don’t see any relief in sight if the political status quo remains.
The outsourcing of jobs to low-wage workers overseas has drawn the ire of union leaders and has been attacked by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Trump and Ted Cruz have drawn attention to the other main driver of voter discontent on the economic front – the insourcing of domestic jobs to lower-wage foreign workers brought in through the immigration system (which Sanders also opposed until flipping in 2013). On this front, voter animus is directed at the corporations who seek to drive down wages and working conditions, rather than for the foreign workers who are taking opportunities they perceive to be in their best interest.
Acting in their own best interest, it now seems, is something American voters who want more restrictive immigration policies no longer have the right to do. Americans who deviate from the two-party line of ever more immigration evermore are told not to give into fear, or are told they don’t understand how the economy really works. The indifference of political leaders to the hardships of American workers has created a political climate unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetimes. The distrust and disaffection of voters has been long in the making, and unless their concerns are seriously addressed, it will continue long after Trump and Bernie, or any of the other current candidates, disappear from the national stage.
Updated: Fri, Mar 25th 2016 @ 12:00pm EDT