Ahead of DACA Vote, Harvard Youth Poll Finds Two-Thirds of Likely Midterm Voters under Age 30 Support Permanent Residency for DACA Population

Support for path to citizenship and permanent residency options heavily outweighs opposition 

CAMBRIDGE, MA — The Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics (IOP) today released new results from its 2018 Spring Youth Poll that focus on the issue of immigration. The poll, which surveyed 18- to 29-year olds, found that nearly two-thirds of all young Americans support a specific path to citizenship for the approximately 800,000 young people who are members of the DACA population, also known as Dreamers. Of those polled, 63 percent agreed that a path to citizenship should be provided to the DACA population, while 14 percent of the respondents were opposed to a pathway.  

On a general level, immigration and refugee-related issues ranked third among the most concerning issues in the minds of likely voters, with 10 percent citing immigration and refugee matters as the most pressing issue. Gun control and Second Amendment issues were listed by 12 percent of likely voters as the most concerning issue, while general matters related to jobs and the economy were listed as the top issue for 13 percent of likely voters.

“From the end of 2017 through the first half of 2018, concern over gun related issues and immigration have grown in importance for young Americans.  As attention on North Korea settles, young Americans will turn to the White House and Congress, demanding action on both of these issues that often disproportionately impact young people,” said John Della Volpe, Director of Polling at Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.

Young Americans also believe in the benefits of increased immigration into the United States. A plurality (42%) of likely voters believe recent immigration into the United States has done more good than harm, compared to 30 percent who disagree. A quarter (25%) of likely voters and 35 percent of undecided voters did not have an opinion in either direction. 

Compared to the 2014 midterm cycle, attitudes of young Americans related to immigration are more favorable. At this time four years ago, 25 percent of 18- to 29- year olds agreed that recent immigration has done more good than harm, compared to 31 percent who disagreed (-6). Among the same general population of those Americans under 30, the Spring 2018 Youth Poll found one-third (33%) in agreement and 29 percent in disagreement (+4).

The Harvard IOP poll found that young Americans are strongly opposed to the funding and building of a wall along the U.S. southern border. Among all young Americans, 58 percent opposed the allocation of $9 billion in federal funding for a border wall and other enhanced border security measures, while only 22 percent of respondents stood in support. Of those who opposed the wall, 45 percent strongly opposed its creation. When polling likely voters, the Harvard IOP found that general opposition to a border wall rose to 67 percent, with 57 percent saying they strongly oppose it.

Opinions regarding family migration are also clearly formed among young Americans. When asked about the policy of limiting family migration to include only spouses and minor children, 40 percent of respondents opposed reducing the number of qualifying family members. That number rose to 49 percent opposition among likely voters, compared to 33 percent (all respondent and likely voters, alike) who supported limiting family migration to just minor children and spouses.

On the subject of merit-based immigration, respondents were generally supportive. Forty-five (45%) percent of all young Americans supported a system that awards points based on factors such as educational level, language fluency, a standing job offer or another connection to the country. Of those polling as generally supportive, however, 27 percent responded as “somewhat supportive,” while only 18 percent answered as “strongly supportive” of the merit system. Meanwhile, opposition to a merit-based system stood at 28 percent among all respondents and rose to 35 percent among likely voters. Twenty-four (24%) percent of all respondents said they did not know how they felt about merit-based immigration policies.  Support for this approach was lowest among young blacks/African Americans (32% support) and highest among Asians (64%); among whites, support was 46 percent, it was 41 percent among Hispanics and 57 percent among those of other or mixed races.

Among all immigration-related topics, young Americans were most formed in their sentiments regarding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Seventy-two (72%) percent of young Americans stated that they only trust ICE to “do the right thing” some of the time (47%) or never (25%); among likely voters, the number was 73 percent. Only 4 percent of all young Americans trusted in ICE to do the right thing all of the time, while more than 6 times that -- 25 percent of all respondents -- said they never trust ICE.

This poll of N=2,631 18- to 29- year-olds, which was organized with undergraduate students from the Harvard Public Opinion Project, was conducted using GfK’s probability-based online sampling methodology between March 8 and March 25, 2018. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 2.54 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.