When it comes to immigration research in the United States, mainstream media coverage and policy analysis have traditionally focused on more top-line public opinion and what is revealed through polling. Average public polling is useful as a means of identifying which Americans are pro- or anti-immigration. It can explain what people feel or want, but it is unable to explain why they feel that way or how deeply they hold that position. It has also therefore been unable to suggest meaningful strategies for intervention or change.
This report and the interdisciplinary survey on which it is based sought to overcome these limitations by digging deeper into how respondents think about immigration issues. Our goal was to assess U.S. citizens' mental models of immigration, i.e., their beliefs and attitudes towards it, but also their perceptions of the risks and benefits it poses. Broadly, we asked: In what ways do their beliefs and values interact with their perceptions of immigration? How and why do U.S. citizens hold the immigration attitudes that they do?