Clinton, N.Y. - A new national survey of Americans’ attitudes on immigration, race, ethnicity and religion, conducted by Hamilton College, shows a large majority of Americans (60%) support allowing legal immigrants to vote in local elections, with the strongest support coming from young Americans and opposed only by a majority of those over age 60.
Similarly almost half of all young people feel the government should focus more on integrating illegal immigrants into American society, and 60% of youth strongly or somewhat approve of President Obama’s performance compared with only 40% of those age 60 and older.
Philip Klinkner, a government professor at Hamilton, and students in his Survey Research class collaborated with the research firm, Knowledge Networks, to conduct the national poll which queried more than 1,000 Americans, including 443 young people aged 18-29.
This online survey, conducted from March 12 - March 21, included 941 individuals who took the survey in English and 66 respondents who took the survey in Spanish.
Based on this sample, the margin of error for all respondents is approximately +/- 3%. The margin of error within the sample of young people is approximately +/- 4.6%. The poll was funded by Hamilton’s Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center.
To measure attitudes toward immigrants, respondents were asked a series of questions that measure different dimensions of perceived character of immigrants and their impact on American society including whether they commit crimes or follow the law, contribute to the economy or hurt it, and are more likely to go on welfare or pay taxes.
These are some of the significant findings:
• Overall, most Americans hold a neutral position toward immigrants with perhaps a slight tilt toward negative views. Broken down by age, young people are slightly more positive toward immigrants. When asked what kind of impact immigrants had on their community as opposed to the country, all respondents are less negative in their responses and young Americans are significantly more positive in their assessment of the impact of immigrants than are older Americans.
• When asked whether the United States should focus more on integrating illegal immigrants into American society or should it do more to enforce laws against illegal immigration, almost 50% of young people feel the country should focus more on integrating illegal immigrants into American society. Similarly, young people are more likely to believe that the United States is spending too much on trying to stop illegal immigration.
• There exists a distinct dichotomy on whether or not illegal immigrants can become citizens if they meet special circumstances. Although almost 50% of all respondents feel that illegal immigrants should not become citizens even if they meet special conditions, all age groups are strongly supportive of allowing illegal immigrants who serve in the military to become citizens. This holds true even among those who had earlier stated that they thought illegal immigrants should never be allowed to become citizens.
• Surprisingly, a large majority of Americans (60%) support allowing legal immigrants to vote in local elections, with the strongest support coming from young Americans and opposed only by a majority of those over age 60.
• A majority of respondents, regardless of age, felt that English should be made the official language so that all government forms (driver’s test, election ballots, etc.) would only be available in English.
• A majority of Americans, even those under 30, are likely to support amending the Constitution to end birthright citizenship although young Americans are less likely.
• Likewise a majority, even those under 30, support the new Arizona anti-illegal immigration law, including a provision that requires people to prove to police officers that they are citizens or legal immigrants.
• When asked about the impact on the United States when, 20 years from now, the majority of the U.S. population will be non-whites or members of current minority groups, young Americans are much more positive about the impact. Even among whites, young Americans are more likely to see these changes as positive, while almost half (47%) of Americans over age 60 feel strongly or somewhat that the impact will be negative.
• Among all age groups, support for building a mosque is significantly less than for building a church. Nonetheless, the difference among young Americans is significantly lower than for other groups. Nearly half of young people would support the building of a mosque, versus only 19% of those over age 60.
Klinkner and his students at Hamilton devised the poll questions, which were distributed via the Knowledge Networks Panel, an online, non-volunteer access panel whose members are chosen through a statistically valid sampling frame covering 99% of the U.S. population.
This survey is one of a series of national polls funded by Hamilton College’s Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center. Previous polls have addressed youth attitudes exclusively and have focused on the environment, abortion, patriotism, immigration, politics and the U.S. Senate, Muslim Americans, gay issues, gun regulation and race issues.