Immigration reform continues to be a top issue heading into the 2016 election. Both parties have sparred on the topic for years, with all the Democratic candidates suggesting a comprehensive approach that allows illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. On the other hand, some Republican candidates have taken a more hardline stance – calling for more deportations and no pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Recently, a federal appeals court blocked President Obama’s executive order to provide work permits for nearly five million as well as relief from deportation. 26 states have brought a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s plan – highlighting the depths of disagreement between Republicans and the President on the issue of immigration.
Donald Trump, specifically, has been most notable for his assertive stance on illegal immigration and has created a divide in the Republican Party. Trump has promised to build a wall on the border of Mexico and the U.S. In addition, Trump has campaigned on mass deportation – rounding up 11 million undocumented immigrants and bringing them back to Mexico. Most of the candidates, including several Republicans, have denounced such a plan. Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich has been the most vocal dissident of Trump, saying “We all know you can’t pick them up and ship them back across the border. It’s a silly argument. It is not an adult argument. It makes no sense.” Most experts would agree with Kasich’s view, arguing that the U.S. would mirror a police state and cost us hundreds of billions of dollars. With that said, Trump remains the frontrunner in national primary polls, clearly generating solid support among the Republican base.
Building a Border Wall
To find out what State students think, a recent Pack Poll asked them if they supported building a border wall. We actually asked the question three different ways. In one version, we asked, “Do you believe we should build a wall on the border of Mexico to keep illegal immigrants from entering the U.S?” Students were overwhelming opposed to this policy proposal. Just 28% of them agreed with the idea of building a wall. By contrast, 51% of Americans are in favor of building a wall, according to a poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports in August.
Our second version of this question was worded identically, except that right before posing it students were told that, “Some people say that illegal immigration is increasing the level of serious crime in America.” Interestingly, asking this version of the question elicited the lowest level of agreement with the plan – with just 22% in favor of a border wall. The drop could potentially be explained by sampling error in our polling. However, an alternative explanation may be that the phrase given to students painted a negative picture of immigrants – one in which they disagree with. Pew Research Center found that 51% of Americans view immigrants positively.
In the third and final version, we attributed the statement about immigration and crime to Donald Trump, telling respondents, “Donald Trump has said illegal immigration is increasing the level of serious crime in America.” Since Trump has most clearly staked his candidacy to taking a strong stance against illegal immigrants, we wanted to examine how his association with the proposal might affect opinions. Research shows respondents often take cues when answering survey questions regarding policy, but the specific cue-giver matters for the direction of source attribution influence. Indeed, when students saw the statement attributed to Trump, they were most likely to agree with building a border wall. Although still not the majority, now 37% agreed with the proposal.
The Effect of Party ID
Breaking down the immigration debate by party identification helps to explain the politics behind it. Republicans are more likely to support a border wall than Democrats, which is probably why candidates like Jeb Bush are performing poorly in the GOP primary.
In the version without referencing crime as a reason for building a wall, 48% of Republicans supported it. Meanwhile, just 21% of Independents and 10% of Democrats, respectively, agreed with the plan. As we noticed before, giving crime as a reason, but not attributing the rationale to Trump, reduces agreement, oddly from Democrats and Republicans about equally. Now 41% of Republicans and just 5% of Democrats agree, while Independents held steady at 21%. Finally, We see Trumps’ appeal is universal. When Trump is associated with the plan, 58% of Republicans, 38% of Independents, and 14% of Democrats agreed with it.
There are multiple key takeaways here. While overall support for a wall remains low, associating the plan with Trump can increase it. Second, opinions are polarized by partisanship. Even though a majority of Republican students don’t agree with the plan, they are far more likely to agree with it than Independents and especially Democrats. Despite strong rhetoric from candidates such as Donald Trump throughout the primary, NC State students disagree that a border wall should be built. This jives with a previous Pack Poll survey that shows students are more likely to support ‘liberal’ immigration policies.
In conclusion, State students were by and large against building a border wall. Donald Trump’s association with the wall increased support – particularly among Independents. Party ID was once again a factor, with Democrats being staunchly opposed to building a wall, while a plurality of Republicans support a border wall.
These are the results for this semester’s “Big Poll,” conducted bi-annualy since 2010 (November 5-10, 2015). The survey was administered over the internet to a random sample of 4,500 NCSU undergraduates, generating a 24% response rate for completed surveys (and 26% for partially completed). Sampling error is +/-2.93% for completed interviews and questions asked of the full sample; it is higher for sub-groups and questions asked of only portions of the full sample.
In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in our sample because our measured demographics closely approximate the known student parameters for age, year in school, and gender. Weighting the data would be unlikely to change the reported results by more than 1-2% percentage points for any question results.
Click here to see the full set of results: Toplines Fall 2015 Big Poll