Americans Don’t Know Much About Immigration, But Know What They Want: The ZERO OPTION! (Or…Less?)
Immigration is unpopular with Americans. Really unpopular. And that’s immigration, full-stop—not merely illegal immigration.
How do I know? My reading of NumbersUSA polls, both current and from the last few years.
For example, on June 20, Numbers reported polling numbers from Missouri, a “swing state” whose Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill will be up for re-election in 2018 [64% of Missourians Want Immigration Cut by 50% or More]. Its press release heralding these numbers opens:
By nearly a 3-to-1 margin, Missourians say they want legal immigration — that has been averaging around one million a year — reduced to a half-million or less. That is the preference of nearly all demographic groups, including Missouri’s Democrats, Republicans, Independents, conservatives, liberals, moderates, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants and those of other religions and no religion, according to a survey conducted by Pulse Opinion Research of 1,000 Missourians likely to vote in next year’s midterm congressional elections.
The poll’s Question #3 (of 13) first provided context— “Current federal policy automatically adds about one million new legal immigrants each year giving all of them lifetime work visas”—and then asked the respondents:
Which is closest to the number of lifetime immigrant work visas the government should be adding each year — none, 250,000, half a million, one million, one and a half million, two million, or more than two million?
Results from those 1,000 likely mid-term voters in Missouri:
- 25% None
- 22% 250,000
- 16% Half a million
- 14% One million
- 3% One and a half million
- 3% Two million
- 4% More than two million
- 14% Not sure
Altogether, then, 63 percent chose an immigrant level of half-million or less, while 24 percent preferred one million or more. That’s an overwhelming landslide favoring lower immigration rates.
And note the single most popular response: “None.” The ZERO OPTION!
Numbers V.P. Jim Robb told me in a recent phone conversation that these Missouri numbers aren’t outliers—he’s been seeing “Zero” triumph in polls since they started including it as an option. (Disclosure: Jim and I have known each other for years.)
He also said that Numbers recently commissioned polls like the one for Missouri in other 2018 Senate-battleground states, with similar results. You can monitor this link at Numbers website to stay current as they’re reported.
Jim explained that, traditionally, the choices offered in Numbers polls on the annual-legal-immigration question were 100,000, 250,000, 500,000, 1,000,000, and greater-than-1,000,000, “even though 100,000 isn’t really a practical number. But 100,000 was very popular among pollees!”
By 2013, he was wondering: “How low will they [the polled public] go?” Thus he first tried the Zero Option that year via a Google Internet-based survey.
(Google Surveys are a low-cost tool used by many organizations to try out poll questions and get quick answers. (See this discussion [PDF]). They usually consist of a single question, and the responses are weighted for demographic factors and location. Jim told me “The consensus is that Google polls are extremely accurate measures of people who are regularly on the Internet.” He added, “You can do this yourself. Anybody can reproduce our polls [i.e. Google surveys].”)
Here were the answers from the Zero Option’s debut:
- 52% None
- 21% Half a million per year
- 13% One million per year
- 14% Two million per year
“So,” Jim concluded, “73 percent wanted to cut immigration by half or more.”
And 52 percent wanted no immigration at all!
That debut poll didn’t provide context (i.e. didn’t give the current rate of legal immigration). Such context can be important, because—anecdotally, anyway—Americans are generally still astoundingly ignorant, or at least innumerate, about our immigration madness.
Three years ago, Center for Immigration Studies Fellow David North recounted a pertinent experience during a reception at New Zealand’s embassy in Washington for alumni of the U.S.-New Zealand Fulbright scholarship program:
I figured that virtually all the Americans there had at least one graduate degree, that they were all probably based in the DC area, many in public policy positions, and, by definition, they had studied in at least one other country. Given all that, they were probably better informed about governmental matters than the average American. So I decided to try my question.
The first couple I talked to were agricultural engineers … They were both outgoing, articulate, and good company, perfect for such an event.
I asked each of them to tell me what the approximate annual total of immigration was to the United States, just permanent legal immigrants, not illegals and not nonimmigrants, as we all had been as foreign students. She said 20,000 annually, and he said 200,000 a year.
The next person I chatted up had also studied environmental matters in NZ, then secured a law degree here, and was now employed by our Justice Department. I did not tell him the earlier responses. He said about 100,000.
All three seemed surprised to hear the million-a-year figure, and that there was a Senate-passed bill (what?) that would double it.
If these cosmopolitan folk were this unknowing, how about the rest of the country? Is there some way we can get that million-a-year number into more heads? Should we buy billboards saying that?
[Quick, What’s the Annual Level of Legal Immigration?, June 20, 2014]
I myself recently experienced this phenomenon in Bozeman in my state of Montana in a conversation with an intelligent woman roughly my age (mid-60s). Her guess: 50,000 per year, and she, too, was surprised to hear “Actually, a million.” (Activism suggestion: Try the experiment with your friends and co-workers.)
Nevertheless, most Establishment polling on immigration neglects context. To illustrate: In eleven of the Junes during 2001 to 2016, Gallup merely asked those polled: “In your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased or decreased?”—without saying what the “present level” is [In U.S., Support for Decreasing Immigration Holds Steady, August 24, 2016; download the internally linked PDF and see Question 12.]
Worse are push polls on immigration, as explained by former CIS staffer Jon Feere (now working at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to the [exquisite!] dismay of the Southern Poverty Law Center):
The likely reason CNN decided to refer to working illegal aliens in the poll is because they knew that it would encourage respondents to be more favorable to the pro-amnesty option. (In fact, CNN has done it before.) Polls alleging public support almost always contain these components — they’re called push polls and they’re designed to create a specific result. Other favored clauses of these pro-amnesty push polls include “pay back taxes”, “speak English”, and the hilarious imagine-whatever-you-want clause: “only if they meet certain requirements”. …
[CNN’s Amnesty Push Poll Refers To ‘Illegal Immigrants Who Have Jobs’, July 28, 2015. Link in original]
Accordingly, when the Center For Immigration Studies commissioned a poll early last November to probe likely voters’ opinions on immigration-enforcement strategies and on legal-immigration numbers, Executive Director Mark Krikorian noted:
[W]e avoided the tendentious wording of almost all MSM polling, along the lines of “Do you support letting hardworking undocumented Americans stay if they pay taxes and call their mothers every Sunday, or are you one of those Trump people who wants to drag screaming children out of their beds?”
[A Referendum on Immigration Policy? I Wish., National Review Online, November 8, 2016]
By now, Numbers USA has run numerous polls that demonstrate the Zero Option’s popularity. Sometimes context was provided, sometimes not. Sometimes the word “legal” was included, sometimes not.
Numbers’ polling “universes” have been various subsets of the general public or of the organization’s own membership. (For the latter in September 2016, everyone in their enormous roster of grassroots participants was invited to take a poll, and a self-selected 24,250 responded. Among those, the Zero Option garnered 40-percent support, tied with the 250,000/year option.)
Perhaps the most interesting result was obtained in July 2014 by Kellyanne Conway’s The Polling Company/Woman Trend. According to Jim Robb, most of today’s scientific polling involves robo-calling, thus necessarily offering pre-determined options for the pollees’ responses to each question. But this survey of 1,000 likely voters employed human operators, and one of the questions they asked was simply, “Each year, how many legal immigrants do you think the U.S. should allow to enter the country?” Then they waited for the pollee to state a number.
Forty-one percent proposed “zero” or “none”! Spontaneously!! Unprompted!!!
Another 34 percent named numbers between 1 and 100,000, while seven percent preferred 100,001 to 500,000.
Summarizing Numbers’ experience with its welter of polls, Jim said, “It’s hard to identify a group that doesn’t want drastically lower immigration.”
This conclusion may startle, given the hoary clichés (“nation of immigrants” et al.) with which we’re ceaselessly browbeaten. But as Chilton Williamson Jr. reminded us last summer, we really shouldn’t be startled:
The late Julian Simon, who believed in the benefits of virtually unlimited immigration to America (and elsewhere), conceded in his book The Ultimate Resource, “I don’t claim that [immigration] is necessary; we can live quite nicely without it.” [The original source of this quote is here.] Similarly, the late Ben Wattenberg, author of The First Universal Nation, admitted that immigration has “never been popular” with Americans, from the early seventeenth century down to the present. In the early 1990s a CBS poll reported that two-thirds of the respondents who wanted immigration quotas reduced preferred they be abolished altogether, and that 20 percent of the American public favored summarily returning immigrants to their countries of origin. No polling done in the past twenty years that I know of suggests that Americans feel different today.
Whether the United States should allow any immigration at all is a question that has never been considered by our national government, but rather how much immigration, what kind of immigrants, and from where. Yet only after that existential question had been framed and carefully considered should the immigration issue have been passed on to the stage of detailed policymaking. The American Founders believed immigration to have been quite as unnecessary, and indeed undesirable, as the American majority does today.
[The Ideology of Unrestricted Immigration, Modern Age, Summer 2016] (Links added)
Clearly, a large percentage of today’s Americans—numerate or innumerate, with or without hearing the context—get it.
For all of us, it’s: Immigration—end it, don’t mend it.
Paul Nachman [email him] is a retired physicist and immigration sanity activist in Bozeman, MT