Arizona’s immigration law — slated to be heard Wednesday by the Supreme Court — has stirred up accusations of racism, conference boycotts and a strident legal challenge from the Obama administration. Despite all the controversy, the judgment from poll after poll is clear: Americans like the law. A lot.
In national polls, there have consistently been more supporters than opponents of the Arizona law, with the latest polls showing higher support than at any point since its passage. More than two-thirds of registered voters (68 percent) approved of the law in an April Quinnipiac poll, while only about a quarter disapproved (27 percent). Voters backed the law by a slimmer 51 to 31 percent margin in Quinnipiac’s earliest gauge, which did not specify that the law requires police to verify some people’s legal status. The law has received at least 60 percent support in every public poll this year.
The law’s key provisions also enjoy wide public support. In a May 2010 Pew poll taken just after the law was passed, 73 percent approved of the law’s requirement that people produce documents verifying their legal status, 67 percent approved of allowing the police to detain people who cannot do so and 62 percent approved of allowing police to question anyone they suspect is in the country illegally.
Support for the law is high even as most Americans acknowledge it might lead to discrimination. More than half the public — 54 percent — said the Arizona law would lead to discrimination against Hispanics in a 2010 CNN/ORC poll, including 69 percent of African Americans and 74 percent of Hispanics. Whites divided evenly on whether the law would lead to discrimination.
One reason for such wide support may be the broad sentiment that the U.S. government is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from coming into the country. Three-quarters of Americans said this in a 2010 Washington Post-ABC News poll, and at least as many said so in polls back to 2005. It’s unclear whether this attitude will weaken in the wake of recent data showing the rate of immigration has slowed to a standstill in recent years, with just as many Mexicans leaving the United States as immigrating to it.
The law also has been popular in Arizona, and a political winner for Republicans. Fully 68 percent of voters in the 2010 gubernatorial race favored the law according to network exit polls — 53 percent strongly — and these voters supported Gov. Jan Brewer’s reelection by a more than a three-to-one margin. She beat her opponent by double digits.
Arizona polling this year shows the law continues to draw positive marks. In a February NBC News/Marist poll, 45 percent of registered voters said they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate if they supported the law, while 20 percent would be less likely to vote for them.
Racial divide While the overall public widely supports the law, African Americans are more divided and Hispanics overwhelmingly oppose it. Nearly eight in 10 Hispanics disapproved of the law in a 2010 Pew Hispanic Center survey, and polls from CNN/ORC and the Associated Press/Univision also showed overwhelming opposition that year. A 55 percent majority of African Americans approved of the law in the Quinnipiac poll this April, 19 points lower than support among whites.
Hispanic opposition is not limited to those without legal status. In the 2010 Pew poll, more than eight in 10 Hispanics who are U.S. citizens disapproved of the law.
Legal issues: A strong majority of Americans want the Supreme Court to uphold the Arizona law, but the public divided on the principal question of whether states should be able to make their own immigration laws. In a 2010 Post-ABC poll, 52 percent said the federal government should be solely responsible for immigration law, while 46 percent said the states should be allowed to make and enforce their own laws.