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Americans Really Don't Like Immigration, New Survey Finds

Sixty-one percent say it jeopardizes the nation.

Sixty-one percent of Americans agree that "continued immigration into the country jeopardizes the United States," according to a new poll commissioned by management consulting firm A.T. Kearney in partnership with market researcher NPD Group that revealed pessimism across a wide range of issues. 

The degree of concern is remarkable considering that the question was about all immigration, including the legal kind. Even Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he supports legal immigration into the U.S.

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A.T. Kearney and NPD Group gave Bloomberg Businessweek an exclusive first look at the results of the survey, which covers 2,590 respondents and is part of an America@250 study that's intended to gauge the nation's direction with 10 years to go before its 250th birthday. The study, which will be posted online later this month, was conducted last October and November.

The political climate may help account for Americans' immigration fears, says Paul Laudicina, chairman of the Global Business Policy Council, which is a unit of A.T. Kearney. "Given what's going on in the national discourse and the desperate state of national politics ... it makes people vulnerable to jingoistic sloganeering," he said in an interview.

A belief that immigration jeopardizes the U.S. was common across age groups, although highest among baby boomers (65 percent) and lowest among millennials (55 percent). By education, it was highest among those with just a high school education or some college (65 percent), and by region it was highest in the South, including Texas (66 percent).

There were lots of other sour findings in the survey. Fifty-eight percent of respondents agreed with the statement "I’m not confident in the U.S. economy’s ability to return to stronger growth." Fifty-two percent agreed, "U.S. businesses will be increasingly uncompetitive." And 51 percent agreed, "My vote doesn’t matter because politics in Washington will never change."

On the plus side, 85 percent of respondents agreed, "Technological progress in a range of sectors will boost U.S. productivity and economic growth."

"American public opinion is very much in a state of flux," says Laudicina. "You can make a case that people are more reasonable and more optimistic than you would be willing to guess based on the nature of the political dialogue."

The A.T. Kearney-NPD Group survey seems to show more negativity toward immigration than other recent surveys, although it's hard to tell because each one uses its own question wording. A Pew Research Center study conducted in August through October found that 53 percent of respondents thought immigration strengthened the U.S. vs. 38 percent who thought it burdened the U.S. In a Gallup Poll in June, 34 percent of respondents favored a decrease in immigration, 25 percent favored an increase, and 40 percent favored keeping it at current levels.

What is clear is that Americans are more down on immigration than in past eras. As recently as 2002, the Harris Poll found that only 1 percent of Americans mentioned immigration, including refugees, when asked to name the two most important issues for the government to address. That rose to 19 percent last year.

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