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Good Fences, Good Neighbors: Public Opinion on Border Security

Donald Trump has called for the erection of a wall between Mexico  and United States, part of his campaign focus on greatly increased border security. Data from the Roper Center archive shows that, despite concerns about efficacy, public opinion on such a proposal over the past three decades has moved from majority opposition to nearly even division.

Concerns about the effects of illegal immigration into the US from Mexico are nothing new, nor proposals to secure the borders with a physical barrier. The first question in the Roper archive about building a wall or fence along the US-Mexican border was asked in 1992. An NBC/WSJ poll found the country split: 25% would be much more likely to support a presidential candidate who favored the idea, 19% somewhat more, 18% somewhat less, and 27% much less likely to support. In a 1993 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll, only 27% favored the idea against 71% who did not. When this question was asked again two years later, support had risen to 35% while opposition had declined to 62%.

The issue did not arise again until 2006 renewed the national debate over immigration reform. A Gallup/USA Todaysurvey found that just 18% thought  a wall would be very effective in reducing illegal immigration.  Thirty-eight percent thought it would be somewhat effective, 19% not too, and 30% not at all effective. Some polls at this time indicated that support for the idea of a wall might have passed the majority threshold. A 2006 Fox/Opinion Dynamics survey found 50% support for a wall on the Mexican border – and 57% support for a wall along the Canadian border. But a CBS poll that same year provided pros and cons of building a Mexican border fence, referencing the cost and the potential for illegal immigrants to find ways to enter despite the barrier. Support for a fence with this caveats was much lower at 29%.  Respondents still wanted to see increased border security, however;  62% supported stationing 6,000 National Guard troops along the border in the same poll.

In 2008, an AP/Ipsos survey found the country split on the idea of a fence, with 49% favoring and 48% opposed, though a majority did not express confidence in the success of such a venture. By 2010 a CNN/ORC poll showed support had risen to 54%, while opposition dropped to 45%, numbers that were virtually unchanged in 2011. Polling over 2012-2013 asked about an overall border security plan that included both a fence and a large increase in border patrol officers. Support for such a plan reached 52% in an ABC/Washington Post poll in 2013.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call to build a wall on the border to stop criminals from entering the US illegally brought increased attention to this issue. A fall 2015 Bloomberg poll found 41% support for a "brick-and-mortar" wall against 55% disapproval, and virtually the same percentages agreed that "if a wall is good for the Mexico border, it is good for the Canada border as well." The most recent surveys have found sharp divisions continuing, with some indications of wording effects. In a March 2016 Pew poll, support for a "fence along the entire border of Mexico" was favored by just one-third of respondents, while 45% in a CBS News poll the same month supported "building a wall along the US-Mexico border to try to stop illegal immigration." 

The issue of fortifying US borders, particularly the southern one with Mexico, has long been an important political issue, for both economic and security reasons.  Like so many other issues in a polarized time, public opinion would suggest a consensus on how to move forward on the issue will remain elusive for some time.

Carl Brown is iPOLL Acquisitions Manager at the Roper Center.

Favor building wall along US border with Mexico
Monmouth University, September 2015Rep

Rep red


Dem blue


More resources on immigration and border issues

Featured Datasets on Immigration

Immigration: Pew's 2013 Polls of Latinos and Asian Americans

2013 Midwest Business Leader Survey on Immigration

German Marshall Fund Poll: TransAtlantic Trends 2010: Immigration Survey

USIA Poll, Mexico 1989: International Relations/US-Mexico

Gallup/Newsweek 1984 Immigration Poll

Explore more questions on illegal immigration and border security in iPOLL.

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