Nearly two out of three Americans (64%) are dissatisfied with the level of immigration into the country, down slightly from 72% in January 2008. About one in four (28%) are satisfied.
The latest results are from a Gallup poll conducted Jan. 5-8, 2012, to assess the mood of the nation at the start of this presidential election year. Americans' dissatisfaction with immigration ranks 3rd highest among 17 issues Gallup asked about.
Gallup posed a follow-up question only to those who say they are dissatisfied with the current level of immigration, asking whether the level of immigration should be increased, decreased, or remain the same. The net result is that 42% of all Americans are dissatisfied with the level of immigration and want it decreased -- down from 50% four years ago. Just 6% are dissatisfied and want the level of immigration increased, unchanged from 2008 but slightly higher than in previous years.
Gallup's question does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigration, a distinction that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney brought up in Monday night's debate in South Carolina.
With the exception of the controversy over Arizona's immigration law, which Americans tended to favor when it was enacted, immigration has not received significant national attention over the past four years. Perhaps as a result, and because of seemingly more pressing economic issues, immigration is not high on Americans' priority list at the moment.
Still, immigration could become an election issue, because the majority of Republicans and conservatives are dissatisfied and in favor of less immigration. Most independents and Democrats are dissatisfied with the level of immigration and generally tilt toward decreased immigration. Among party and ideology groups, only liberals are more satisfied than dissatisfied on this issue.
The bottom line is that immigration has not been a top legislative priority or a top concern in Americans' eyes as the nation has focused more on its economic and financial troubles. Still, nearly two out of three Americans remain dissatisfied with the level of immigration into the country today. As such, it is an issue that could generate strong feelings during the presidential election campaign or if a major legislative proposal comes to the forefront.
At the same time, 54% said they would want their representative to vote in favor of the DREAM Act when that issue was being debated in 2010.
While the current survey did not include enough Hispanics to meaningfully report on their views, immigration is an important issue to this key voting constituency. As such, President Obama and his Republican rivals may seek to raise the issue in the campaign. Americans, and especially older Americans, Republicans, conservatives, and those in the South, will likely welcome proposals aimed at decreasing immigration.