A lot of people think there's too much legal immigration in the U.S., or at least that we shouldn't have more legal immigration. Why? Of the tens of millions of Americans who believe this, surely there are many different opinions and for most, there's some combination of reasons. These reasons range from the fully racial (pure dislike of Hispanics and Muslims); to the racially tinged (worry that immigrants are more likely to be criminals); to the purely economic (increasing the supply of labor drives down the price of labor — that is, it depresses wages).
Matt Yglesias, a liberal blogger, has long been very skeptical of the job-based arguments against illegal immigration. He uses the common mocking formulation of this worry, about immigrants taking "yer jerbs." Here are a couple more of his tweets so that you know where he's coming from:
If opposition to immigration was mostly about wages, you'd expect to see very little of it among retirees.— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) March 23, 2016
...and this one.
The content of my inbox is one reason I doubt opposition to immigration is driven by concern over impact on earlier immigrant wages.— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) October 25, 2015
It was with these hypotheses and prior assumptions that Yglesias teamed up with Morning Consult to commission a poll on attitudes towards immigration.
Yglesias's article carries the subhead: "voter worries about immigration mostly aren't about the economy." Yglesias sums up the poll this way: "concerns about physical security — crime and terrorism — are more important than concerns about jobs and the economy."
His colleague Ezra Klein promotes the tweet by saying "economic insecurity" is not "driving concern about immigration." Liberal writer Jordan Weissmann puts it bluntly: "Turns out Americans who hate immigrants aren't just secretly worried about the economy."
This is the utility of this Yglesias product for immigration fans who dislike the GOP and the American Right. So is it true?
I don't think so. Consider this question from the poll:
"In general, do you think immigrants in the United States help create jobs, take away jobs, or have no impact on jobs?"
A majority — 52 percent — say immigrants take away jobs, compared to 37 percent who say they help create jobs or don't have an impact. This view was above average in a few notable demographics, given Yglesias's premise/conclusion: 61 percent of those ages 45-54 saw immigrants as job-takers (the highest age group) and 55 percent of those with no college degree, and 59 percent of those in blue-collar professions.
Here is that "take away jobs" answer compared to other answers:
So the charge the greatest number of Americans level against immigrants is that they take jobs. That seems to conflict with Yglesias's conclusion that "jobs and the economy" are secondary. The more abstract and broader charge of hurting "the economy" is below crime and security, but the concrete question of taking away jobs — that's a concern for more voters than any other issue is. It's very possible many voters think immigrants are good for making labor cheaper for employers (which is good for the economy broadly) while bad for the more expensive workers they replace.
Yglesias hangs much of his argument on the answers to the question, "What, if anything, is your biggest concern about immigration in the United States?" There, "hurts national security" came in first place, with 26 percent, ahead of "weakens the economy," which got 18 percent (with blue-collar workers and sub-$50K workers overrepresented). But this question didn't include the jobs question, just the broader "economy" question.
A reader might infer that economic concerns aren't a top issue because the the poll omitted the specific jobs question from its "what is your biggest concern?" question. Also, Yglesias omitted the question about jobs from his summary of it.
I don't think this poll confirms Yglesias's premise/conclusion as much as Yglesias does.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.