For years, polls have showed public support for amnesty — so long as it comes with certain conditions. In this case, CNN imagines a bill that would give illegals legal status and an eventual path to citizenship if they’ve been here for several years and have a job and speak English and pay back taxes. In other words, if someone has taken steps to assimilate culturally (at least to the point of learning the language) and they’re paying their own way instead of relying on welfare, then sure, Americans are okay with giving that person a pass. And note: There isn’t much of a partisan gap. If Trump and Ryan want to push a deal like this, Trump’s core base would be pissed off but virtually everyone else would shrug.
87/12 among Republicans is … quite a number. Even more interesting is the trendline: In 2014, when CNN asked this same question, the overall public split 81/17. There’s been a nine-point swing since then, an unusual surge for a policy that already enjoys near-unanimous support. My hunch when I saw that was that there must be a “Trump effect” at work, in which Democrats unify behind a policy even more solidly than they did before purely because they know Trump opposes it. (We’ve seen what appears to be a “Trump effect” show up in polling on the border wall, for instance.) E.g., it may be that only 80 percent or so of Dems supported this sort of amnesty three years ago but now, because they hate Trump and his hawkishness on the border so much, something like 100 percent support it. That would account for the nine-point overall swing.
But as it turns out, that’s not what happened. Here’s how the parties split on this question in that 2014 poll:
Support among Democrats has indeed increased — but only by eight points, from 88 percent three years ago to 96 percent now. Remarkably, the increase among Republicans (from 72 percent in 2014 to 87 percent now) is nearly twice that amount. It’s GOPers who are driving the greater unanimity on amnesty lately. How does that square with the rise of Trump and his enduring popularity on the right? One possibility is that it’s a simple matter of trust: Republicans never would have trusted President Obama to implement a mass amnesty fairly and responsibly, but President Trump? Sure, they can trust him. The problem with that theory, though, is that support for legalizing illegals who speak English, have a job, etc, had already reached 88 percent in yet another CNN poll taken last September — before Trump became president. Republican support was at 79 percent in that poll, up seven points from 2014. Why GOPers would be getting softer on amnesty as they were coalescing behind the hardliner Trump, I don’t know. It could be that, as the economy improved, their fears of illegal immigration eased a bit. And meanwhile, an anti-Trump backlash on the left was congealing, driving overall support for amnesty ever higher.
Another interesting trendline appears in questions about what the U.S. government’s top priority on immigration should be — deportation, sealing the border, or finding a way to legalize illegals who are already here and have jobs. Looks like Americans have been getting more lenient on this subject too since the rise of Trumpmania in 2015, no?
Once again we have a paradox of the country becoming more open to amnesty as Trump built a populist anti-amnesty movement that carried him to the White House. But wait — go back a bit further in time, to CNN’s 2014 poll, and you’ll see that the trendline hasn’t always moved steadily towards amnesty:
Put those last two tables together and you’ll see that a majority of Americans (54 percent) supported amnesty in 2014 — and then, by September 2015, the number had shrunk to 46 percent. It was still below 50 percent in December of that year before crossing back to majority support in 2016 and rising to the current 60 percent level now. Meanwhile, going all the way back to 2010, a meager 38 percent of Americans supported legalization compared to 60 percent who wanted to either deport those who were here or stop new illegals from entering. What’s happening in these bouncy numbers, I assume, is a combination of economic effects plus reaction on the right to Trump’s rise. In 2010, with the country still struggling with the Great Recession, fewer Americans were willing to tolerate extra competition for jobs from illegals; by 2012-14, with the economy recovering and Obama getting reelected, they were more forgiving. Then in 2015, when Trump caught fire, the right moved in his direction on immigration briefly. And now, with Trump in the White House, good news emerging on job creation, and reports of a falloff in border crossings since January, the right may feel less worried about illegal immigration while the left sees support for amnesty as a way to extend a political middle finger to Trump. Put all of that together and, yeah, no wonder you’re seeing the numbers for an immigration deal climb.