No, Californians are not anti-immigrant

Survey finds broad support for inclusive values

john a. powell


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Dear friends,

Last week the Haas Institute publicly released the results of the wide-ranging California Survey on Othering and Belonging: Views on Identity, Race and Politics. Conducted in December in English and Spanish among 2,440 Californians, the survey is part of the work of our Blueprint for Belonging (B4B) project. 

Created in collaboration with the polling firm Latino Decisions, the impetus for the survey was to give us a baseline for understanding where Californians are in relation to some core pillars of progressive agendas, and to track trends on attitudes and values that will help inform how we can more strategically focus our efforts. 

Overall, the survey results revealed the promise of a more inclusive California, while also exposing key issues that community and government leaders face in addressing inequality, divisive policies, and racial inequities. While not comprehensive—for instance, the instrument fell far short in accurately capturing the perspectives of Californians with disabilities—what was holistically revealed was broad support by Californians across the board for racially and socially inclusive policies, economic justice, and progressive immigration reform. These findings held true across age, racial/ethnic groups, geographical regions, and across liberal, conservative, and moderate political viewpoints.

Some of the findings that bear out this analysis include:

  • 71 percent of Californians think that establishing a pathway for undocumented immigrants to stay here legally is very (32 percent) or somewhat (39 percent) important; and 79 percent felt it was very (44 percent) or somewhat (35 percent) important to create a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers.
  • 79 percent said taking in refugees escaping war and violence is very (30 percent) or somewhat (49 percent) important, with 66 percent holding a similar view about refugees from Muslim countries (very-27 percent; somewhat-39 percent). 
  • Around two-thirds of Latino and Black residents reject the idea that they are competing with each other for jobs.
  • Some 68 percent of all respondents support race-conscious policies like affirmative action.
  • Sixty-eight percent of all respondents think big businesses and corporations are not paying their fair share of state taxes.

These findings are consistent with the Haas Institute's analysis that over the past 25 years, California has become a more welcoming and inclusive state. The state is today is a far cry from the mid-1990s when a wave of ballot initiatives that scapegoated immigrants and people of color were passed by voters. Today, Californians are notable for passing a number of progressive laws, such as the Sanctuary State law and the state's Domestic Workers Bill of RightsProp 55 extended the temporary 13.3 percent tax rate on the state's high-income earners until 2030, while Props 47 and 57 decrease the amount of time inmates spend behind bars for minor crimes and make it easier for them to be paroled.

new video we published tracks the history of progressive wins and power-building in the state, and provides us an important historical lens through which we can learn how to continue the trajectory of California becoming an even more inclusive state. 

Yet despite the overall equitable outlook, the survey also revealed where we still have much work to do. One troubling finding was that 49 percent of respondents favored a "Muslim ban," a finding which tracks closely to our research on how Islamophobia is being legislated across the US, a strategic and well-financed effort that Institute researchers are following by exposing policies targeted to exclude Muslims and the legislators, and hate groups, who back them.

Another finding revealed that 59 percent of those surveyed felt that increasing deportations as part of a US immigration policy was very important or somewhat important. In reporting on the survey, many media outlets chose to seize on this figure (and mostly to the exclusion of all the other findings), implying that number represented an "overwhelming majority" of Californians who support increasing deportations. In today's hyper-polarized landscape, where the safety of many immigrants is greatly threatened, we should have communicated more carefully the reality of those responses, which was that those who thought it was "very important" were only 24 percent, and those who ranked it "somewhat important" was 35 percent. These numbers do not constitute any kind of consensus on Californians' views to increase deportations. In fact, where the responses fell on the intensity scale suggested they were more ambiguous and conflicted rather than pointing towards support for more regressive policies pertaining to our immigrant communities.

This ambiguity is important because it represents what we also find to be true in our research, which tells us that people very often hold conflicting views. We all struggle to reconcile multiple viewpoints within ourselves. Which “self” wins out can depend upon the conscious and subconscious messages that are conveyed by the media, politicians, and community leaders. Californians are not immune to messages coming across our airwaves and social media that vilify Muslims, immigrants, Black communities, and other marginalized populations.

Repudiating the dominant narrative of demonization, criminalization, and divisiveness is an enormous undertaking. This data indicates there are vulnerabilities that we need to address through our advocacy, organizing, reporting, and research. These survey findings give us a deeper set of questions and conversations to illuminate the tensions and find shared solutions for addressing them.

We know that California continues to struggle with persistent challenges—poverty rates among the highest in the nation, glaring homelessness, xenophobia and transphobia, discrimination based upon abilities, and racial disparities across education, employment, wealth, and other areas.

How Californians choose to address these issues depends, in large part, on whether organizations, leaders, and politicians can inspire hearts and minds to continue the state’s progressive trajectory. And how we do that will take many twists and turns. Putting forward the disconcerting with the positive will be part of it. Marginalized communities don’t want a sugar-coated picture from progressive outfits. But when and how we paint that picture matters, too, and we will work more closely with our partners to improve our strategies when it comes to this work. 

As a research institution with a mission of engaged and applied scholarship, we are committed to synchronizing our work with that of organizers and advocates to meet these challenges. Moving towards a fairer and more inclusive California, a state where all of us belong, is what’s at stake.

john a. powell, Director
Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society