Poll Shows Limits Of Donald Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

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Donald Trump has characterized many undocumented immigrants as criminals or as people who take jobs away from struggling Americans. But a new Pew Research poll on immigration policy shows a majority of Americans don’t agree with him.

Here are three areas where the public differs from Trump on immigration:


Americans part ways with Trump on his assessment of immigrants taking opportunities away from Americans. At a campaign rally in 2015, Trump said of undocumented workers, “They’re taking our jobs. They’re taking our manufacturing jobs. They’re taking our money. They’re killing us.”

The new national survey, however, found that 76% of American adults, including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, think that undocumented immigrants are “as honest and hard-working” as U.S. citizens. Just 24% of respondents said undocumented immigrants take jobs Americans want, compared with 71%, also including majorities in both parties, who said they mostly take jobs citizens won’t do.


Most Americans don’t seem to fear the same violence from immigrants that Trump does. Trump tells stories on the stump of American citizens who were murdered by immigrants; Jamiel Shaw, who Trump often mentions and whose son was murdered by an undocumented immigrant in 2008, even spoke at the GOP convention in Cleveland. “People are getting hurt,” Trump said in a 2015 interview with TIME. “People are being decimated by illegal immigrants. The crime is unbelievable.”

But in the Pew poll, 67% of Americans said that undocumented immigrants are no more likely than citizens to commit serious crimes. There was a partisan difference in the response, but still with majorities in both parties: 80% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans said they didn’t think undocumented immigrants were more likely to commit serious crimes.

The wall

The public sentiment also skews against Trump’s signature policy proposal: the Mexican border wall. 61% of poll respondents opposed the wall, compared to 36% in favor. A majority of white respondents (54%) said they opposed the wall, but even larger majorities of blacks and Hispanics said they opposed it: 76% each.

However, there was a significant partisan split here. A 63% majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters support the wall, whereas 84% of Democrats are opposed to it.

Trump’s limits

A breakdown of anti-immigrant sentiment by enthusiasm for Trump points to the limits of his appeal on immigration. Pew found that those who expressed strong support for Trump held much more negative views of undocumented immigrants even compared to those who moderately support the Republican nominee. For example, 59% of people who said they strongly support Trump thought undocumented immigrants were more likely to commit serious crimes; 42% who only moderately support or lean towards Trump thought so. 41% of people who strongly support Trump thought undocumented immigrants were taking jobs Americans want; only 29% of moderate Trump supporters thought so.

In other words, when Trump appeals to nativism, he is largely speaking to the people who are already in his corner. These new poll results show that to win over more moderate voters, speaking harshly of undocumented immigrants may hurt Trump rather than help.

The Pew Research poll was based on telephone interviews with 2,010 American adults conducted Aug. 9-16, 2016 with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The respondents live in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

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Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.Rogers@time.com