If you listen to Donald Trump, immigrants are alternately rapists, killers, and leeches who steal jobs from hardworking Americans. His ascendency to the top of the Republican presidential field suggests that voters agree. But a new study says otherwise: More Americans believe that immigrants “make America great” rather than drive the country into the ground, as Trump has repeatedly claimed.
According to a Pew Research poll released on Monday, 45 percent of voters believe immigrants are making American society better in the long run, while only 37 percent think they are making it worse. Another 16 percent believe that immigrants have very little effect. These numbers are the reverse of what they were a decade ago. In 2005, 52 percent of Americans told Pew that immigrants were “are a burden because they take jobs, housing and health care,” while only 41 percent believed that they “strengthen our country with their hard work and talents.” It may seem like nativism is at its peak today, but Trump is in fact championing an outdated worldview with dwindling support.
But Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric does resonate with three key groups: whites, Republicans, and the less educated. And in the Pew poll, white voters were split: 41 percent said that immigrants make society better, while 43 percent said immigrants make it worse. Among Republicans, 53 percent believe the latter, as do 46 percent of those with a high school diploma or less.
In contrast, 55 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Millennials believe immigrants are improving society. Minority voters, particularly 61 percent of Hispanics, agree.
Nonetheless, Trump seems unconcerned. He has made little effort to court moderates, and though he does lead among college-educated Republicans, his support is strongest among the white, less educated voters whose influence looms large in the Republican primary. Their support has, after all, allowed Trump to capture the national spotlight and take the lead in the Republican polls. But, as these numbers show, the general election will be a different beast entirely.