A new comprehensive analysis from Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends group provides deep insights into the history of immigration in the United States and concludes that current attitudes from Americans about this contentious topic are mostly mixed and somewhat misinformed.

The top-line points from Pew share several key findings —“nearly 59 million immigrants have arrived in the United States, pushing the country’s foreign-born share to a near record 14%”— but it is a specific section of the analysis (Chapter 4: U.S. Public Has Mixed Views of Immigrants and Immigration) that presents some telling conclusions about the current immigration debate and the 2016 election cycle:

How Well Do Americans Know About Immigration Facts?

The following chart from Pew shows how well Americans answered questions about certain immigration facts. The first question in the chart shows that 53% of American adults did not know the current percentage of foreign-born individuals was 13% of the U.S. population. In addition, 36% believe that the share of undocumented individuals as part of America’s immigrant population is higher than 26%, which is the correct answer. Furthermore, 69% of American adults believe that Latin Americans represent the largest group of new immigrants from the last five years. The correct answer is Asian immigrants.

PH_2015-09-28_immigration-through-2065-51 (1)

How Do Americans View Immigrants From Different Parts of the World?

According to Pew, American adults view European and Asian immigrants more favorably than immigrants from others parts of the world, with Latin American and Middle Eastern immigrants being viewed as “mostly negative.”

PH_2015-09-28_immigration-through-2065-42 (1)

Pew also drilled down a bit more to share how Republicans view Latin American immigrants. This chart shows that 58% of Republicans have a “mostly negative” view of Latin American immigrants.


How Do Americans Describe Immigrants?

According to Pew, 12% of American adults say the word “illegal” first when asked to describe immigrants. This is the chart Pew presented, showing all the different words that came to mind:


How Do Americans View Impact of Immigrants?

Pew also provided one chart showing how American adults view immigrants’ contributions to society.


Based on that chart, Pew concluded the following:

Americans are more likely to say immigrants to the U.S. are making American society better than making it worse. According to the survey, a plurality of Americans (45%) say that immigrants coming to the U.S. make American society better in the long run, while 37% say they make society worse and 16% say immigrants don’t have much of an effect one way or the other.

But there are major differences in the way different groups of Americans answer this question, with immigrants themselves, college graduates, Hispanics and younger Americans much more likely to be sanguine about the impact the foreign born are having on the United States, while Republicans, those with a high school diploma or less, and whites are more likely to have the most negative views of immigrants’ impact on the U.S.

Hispanics are more likely than whites or blacks to say immigrants are making U.S. society better, possibly reflecting the groups’ strong recent immigrant roots. According to the survey, about six-in-ten (61%) Hispanics say that in the long run, immigrants to the U.S. are making American society better while just 20% say they make it worse and 17% say immigrants have not had much effect on U.S. society.

By comparison, 44% of blacks say the impact of immigrants is positive, a plurality among them. But among whites, while 41% say immigrants make American society better in the long run, a similar share (43%) says immigrants make American society worse.

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