Majority of Americans love foreigners, says survey

US flags on Capitol Hill. Reuters.

NEW YORK – Despite all the anti-immigration rhetoric, tightening of restrictions on work visas, and the now ingrained Republican drive to ‘Make America Great Again’, which many critics say smacks of racism, is a propulsion to wean out people of color, a majority of Americans welcome foreigners, said a new Pew Research Center survey.

The survey analyzes that for a large majority of Americans, the country’s openness to people from around the world “is essential to who we are as a nation.” This sentiment remains unchanged in even Republican ranks, since the summer of 2017, when a similar survey was conducted by Pew.

According to the survey, 68% say America’s openness to foreigners is a defining characteristic of the nation, while just 26% say “if America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.”

And it cuts across demographic groups, says the national survey, conducted September 18-24 among 1,754 adults. The view is more prevalent among younger people. Eight-in-ten adults younger than 30 say this (80%), compared with about six-in-ten (63%) of those ages 50 and older.

Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 85% thinks America’s openness is essential to the nation’s identity. An overwhelming 93% of liberals are particularly likely to say this, compared with 78% among conservative and moderate Democrats

The survey surmises that there are only modest racial and ethnic differences in these views: 65% of whites think America’s openness to foreigners is essential to nation’s identity, and 73% of blacks and 70% of Hispanics share the same opinion. Also, roughly three-quarters of adults with a college degree or more (76%), agree with that notion.

However, despite this favorable sentiment towards new immigrants, a separate national survey released by Pew last week, notes wide differences in the views of Republican and Democratic voters across 13 different issues and policy areas.

While healthcare and abortion rights feature prominently for voters, the Trump-era policy of increased tariffs between the US and its trading partners is viewed much more positively by GOP voters than by Democratic voters. Nearly three-quarters of GOP voters (72%) say increased tariffs will be good for the United States, about five times the share of Democratic voters who support higher tariffs (14%).

Trump administration officials and his core base would not doubt see this as a big victory for their new drive to squeeze out more from their partners, and boost jobs and trade surpluses for America.

The survey results could have repercussions for India, who recently defied sanctions imposed on Iran and Russia, and continues to do new trade deals with those countries.

Though Trump has said a decision on India would be taken soon on trade ‘infringements’, the critical geopolitics of the trade war going on with China which America is trying to muscle through, will play a role also in deliberations on any punitive measures. US wouldn’t want concurrent friction with India as well. It’s also aware of China’s recent overtures to India, to increase trade parleys.

Also, the fact that the US has a massive trade deal going on with India, especially in the arms industry, might be another saving grace for India. The US would be wary of a sour relationship with India.

One thing’s for sure: Trump wouldn’t want existing trade deals with India to dissipate, and shown as losses to American industry and workers.

Despite the overwhelming support from GOP voters for trade tariffs, a majority of Americans (55%) continue to say that the US should take into account the interests of its allies in foreign policy, even if it means making compromises with them, the Pew survey notes. Fewer say the US should follow its own national interests, even when its allies strongly disagree (38%).

However, since 2017, the public has become slightly less likely to say compromising with allies is preferable (59% then, 55% now). This downtick is also more in line with opinions measured in years prior to 2017.

Also, more adults say that other countries often take unfair advantage of the US (51%) than say that other countries treat the US about as fairly as they are treated (42%).

In the 1990s, Americans were much more likely to view other countries’ treatment of the US as unfair than they are today. When the question was last asked nearly two decades ago, 70% said that other countries take advantage of the US while just 24% said that other countries treat the US with mutual fairness.

According to Pew, in 1999, about two-thirds of Democrats (68%) said other countries often take unfair advantage of the US; just 28% say that today. By comparison, 80% of Republicans now say that other countries take unfair advantage (up from 73% in September 1999).

And despite all the conflated news on the legal immigration front, growing news coverage of the H-1B visa knots and clampdown on work permits for spouses of those workers, Americans it seems are really only concerned on the issues revolving around illegal immigration.

When asked whether the policy priority should be “creating a way for immigrants already here illegally to become citizens if they meet certain requirements,” or “better border security and stronger enforcement of our immigration laws” – or whether both should be given equal priority – nearly half of Republican voters (48%) and about as many Democratic voters (45%) say both should be given equal priority.

The chasm in choice in this matter is clear, though.

Far more Democratic voters (49%) than Republican voters (11%) say the priority should be on creating a way for those in the US illegally to become citizens if they meet certain conditions. By contrast, far more Republican voters (39%) than Democratic voters (5%) say the focus should be on better border security and enforcement.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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