Public Understands Many Flaws of Arizona Immigration Law, Likes It Anyway

I wasn’t surprised to see that early polling on Arizona’s draconian immigration crackdown was somewhat positive. But I assumed that people didn’t really understand the issue properly, as is often the case. But Supreme Leader Faiz Shakir’s writeup of the NYT’s poll on the subject reveals the more disturbing possibility that the public knows what’s going on and likes it anyway:

Although the respondents broadly agreed that the Arizona law would result in racial profiling, overburden local and state law enforcement agencies and decrease the willingness of illegal immigrants to report crimes for fear of deportation, large majorities said it would reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the state, deter illegal border crossings and, to a lesser extent, reduce crime.

So I have to say the public is right about this. Crackdowns won’t eliminate illegal immigration or illegal border crossings, but they will reduce it. Albeit at the cost of increased racial profiling, overburdened state and local law enforcement, and decreased cooperation with authorities.

Which all goes back to the fact that people don’t recognize the positive-sum nature of immigration. The debate on immigration and wages among serious analysts ranges from the conclusion that immigration raises the wages of all native-born workers to the conclusion that immigration raises the wages of all native-born workers with high school diplomas. It’s clear, however, that relatively few voters believe this result or else support for more immigration would be much higher, especially among white voters. Realistically, the most plausible economic beneficiaries of an immigration crackdown would be low-skill recent immigrants (i.e., the people with similar human capital profiles) and that’s clearly not who’s driving the nativist movement.



Brendan Nyhan casts some doubt on this “racial profiling” issue, pointing out that the actual question the poll asked isn’t really on-point and the NYT shouldn’t have characterized it this way.