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Image: Citizenship USA
A candidate for citizenship holds the American flag against his chest during the playing of the national anthem at the start of a naturalization ceremony for 755 new United States citizens at Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team in Atlanta on Sept. 16, 2016.David Goldman / AP file

Trump's reverse Midas touch: Americans back more immigration

For a half-century, Americans wanted less immigration, not more. Then Donald Trump took office, and public attitudes went in the other direction.


Gallup has been asking Americans for 55 years whether they'd like to see more or less immigration to the United States. Before now, the results never looked like this.

Thirty-four percent of Americans, up from 27% a year ago, would prefer to see immigration to the U.S. increased. This is the highest support for expanding immigration Gallup has found in its trend since 1965. Meanwhile, the percentage favoring decreased immigration has fallen to a new low of 28%, while 36% think it should stay at the present level. This marks the first time in Gallup's trend that the percentage wanting increased immigration has exceeded the percentage who want decreased immigration.

To be sure, 34% isn't a majority, but the trend is nevertheless striking: for more than a half-century, the number of Americans supporting less immigration has always been larger than those supporting more immigration.

And now, that's reversed.

The larger context is highly relevant: to the extent that Donald Trump has an immigration agenda, it's built around a demanded for sharp reductions to legal immigration to the United States. Indeed, the president rejected a bipartisan deal that would've provided him with tens of billions of dollars for a border wall, precisely because the deal did not include deep cuts to legal immigration.

It's against this backdrop that American support for more immigration has reached new heights.

In October 2017, Vox's Matt Yglesias first described Trump's effects on public opinion as a "reverse Midas touch." It's a simple idea: when the president criticizes something, it tends to become more popular.

As we've discussed, the evidence to bolster the thesis keeps piling up. Public support for DACA protections for Dreamers, for example, went up shortly after Trump rescinded the DACA policy. Similarly, support for the Affordable Care Act, government solutions to the climate crisis, athletes protesting racism, and even public confidence in American media all improved in the wake of Trump's criticisms.

Even on trade, after the president started imposing tariffs, American support for free trade went up, too. NBC News' Mark Murray noted a while back that after Trump's initial tariff announcement, support for foreign trade reached "an all-time high."

Around the same time, the president changed his mind about his agenda on gun policy after meeting NRA officials -- at which point national polling showed souring on the NRA in ways without modern precedent.

What Trump rejects, the public supports. What Trump supports, the public rejects. It's a tough recipe for an incumbent seeking a second term.