Friday, June 06, 2008

Did 9/11 make Americans think twice about immigration? The short answer is no.

The General Social Survey asked 1,140 Americans in 1996 if immigration should be: 1) increased a lot; 2) increased a little; 3) should remain the same; 4) decreased a little; or 5) decreased a lot. Here are the results:

Attitude toward immigration, 1996--percent distribution

Should be increased a lot 2.9
Increased a little 5.9
Remain the same 27.2
Reduced a little 29.6
Reduced a lot 34.6

In 2006, 1,936 people were asked the same question, and I've listed the numbers once again below:

Attitude toward immigration, 2006--percent distribution

Should be increased a lot 3.9
Increased a little 8.7
Remain the same 34.8
Reduced a little 24.0
Reduced a lot 28.6

There is a very clear shift toward either maintaining current levels of immigration or increasing them. The percent wanting a reduction--either a little or a lot--fell by almost 12 points. Fortunately, a majority still want slower immigration, but the shift is not good news for restrictionists like myself.

But 9/11 affected some folks more than others. Jews were hit particularly hard since many live or have relatives in New York, and the terrorists and many of their immigrant co-religionists are anti-Semitic. Plus, Jews have been so reflexively pro-immigration, the ice cold splash of 9/11 might have made them re-think the issue.

So here are the numbers for American Jews (I've combined 2006 and the other year available--2004--to maximize N):

Jewish attitudes toward immigration, 1996--percent distribution

Should be increased a lot 0.0
Increased a little 23.1
Remain the same 30.8
Reduced a little 23.1
Reduced a lot 23.1

N = 26

Jewish attitudes toward immigration, 2004 and 2006 combined--percent distribution

Should be increased a lot 5.3
Increased a little 11.8
Remain the same 35.5
Reduced a little 27.6
Reduced a lot 19.7

N = 76

We can't make any strong conclusions since samples are small--perhaps the safe thing to say is that Jews evidently have not changed their views in the post-9/11 environment. On the other hand, these data indicate that almost half of Jews would like to see a reduction in immigration--a number not much lower than for all Americans.

I found in a previous analysis that 90% or more of Jewish Americans are pro-immigration, but I was using the generic question, "Is immigration good for America?" But when you pin folks down and ask them if they want more or less, Jews like everyone else are more likely to say less. So it seems that some of the Jewish enthusiasm for immigration is theoretical.


  1. Anonymous2:53 PM

    You've actually got a rightward shift; about 5% moved from pro-immigration to keeping it the same.

    I'd be curious to see how they vote in the 2008 election; according to the NYT the oldies in Florida are getting nervous.

  2. Anonymous12:33 PM

    Did the question contain any sort of preface that informed the repondent how many immigrants we let in legally each year? Suppose the question were phrased thusly: "the USA takes in around 1,000,000 legal immigrants every year, and 1/2 to 2/3 that number illegally. Should immigration be increased...?"

    My bet is that you'd see the number come down solidly on the "less immigration" side. Most people have no idea how many people we're letting in; they just sense their communities are changing rapidly, and most of them don't like it one bit.

  3. c.o. jones: No preface, but I think you're right that most folks have no idea what the number is.

  4. Anonymous12:33 PM

    Couldn't any shift towards greater restrictionist beliefs among pre-1965 stock americans be masked by more persistent pro-immigration beliefs in the increasing proportion of americans who are descendants of post-1965 immigrants? How did restrictionist beliefs change among white americans alone?

    -pjgoober at g*m*a*i*l d*o*t c*o*m


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