Declining and splitting: Opposition to immigration in the United States, 1996–2018

Matthew R. Sanderson, Moshe Semyonov, Anastasia Gorodzeisky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ‘competitive threat’ theoretical model leads to the expectation that flows of documented and undocumented immigrants, economic downturns, and spread of conservative-nationalist ideologies would increase opposition to immigration. Recent studies on attitudes toward immigrants in American society do not show any increase in anti-immigrant sentiment. In the present study, we use data from the General Social Surveys (GSS) and American National Election Survey (ANES) to study change in opposition to immigration between 1996 and 2018. The findings obtained from the two data sources are strikingly similar and lead to the following conclusions. First, opposition to immigration had steadily and monotonously declined throughout the period. Second, the decline is evident even after considering variations and changes in the composition of the population, shifts in political ideologies, regional variations and cohort replacement. Third, the trend of decline in opposition to immigration takes a linear form. Fourth, opposition to immigration is stronger among Republicans and Independent voters than among Democrats. Fifth, the overtime decline in opposition to immigration was evident mostly among supporters of the Democratic Party increasing the division along party lines. The findings suggest that immigration is becoming a major political issue that is steadily polarizing American society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-39
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • ANES
  • Attitudes
  • GSS
  • Immigration
  • Opposition
  • United States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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