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Poll: Where You Watch TV News Predicts Your Feelings On Immigration

A U.S. Border Patrol agent keeps watch at a gate on the U.S.-Mexico border fence near San Benito, Texas.

When it comes to immigration policy, American opinions often break down along party lines, with most Republicans supporting President Trump, and Democrats vigorously opposed.

But according to a new NPR-Ipsos poll, there's an even better predictor of how you feel about immigration: where you get your TV news.

The poll of more than 1,000 people asked about Trump's immigration policies and proposals and about which immigrants should get priority in the U.S. system. The poll was conducted in English and Spanish from June 19-20. Most respondents said they got their news mainly from TV.

On some questions, people who get their TV news primarily from Fox News or CNN are even further apart than Republicans and Democrats, with viewers of the other big TV networks somewhere in between.

Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson says he's surprised to find a connection in the data that's even stronger than partisanship.

"People who get their news from Fox News actually take the strongest anti-immigrant position of any group we looked at in this survey," Jackson said.

"I can't really say if those views are coming because of Fox. Or if they're watching Fox because they hold those views. But it's a really strong connection. I think it was very surprising," he said.

The poll looked at other factors too, including whether you live in a city, a suburb, or a rural area. And there are some differences in opinion depending on where you live.

We also looked at another factor we thought would really matter: whether you know anyone born outside the U.S., or are an immigrant yourself.

"There is definitely a little bit of difference between people who are immigrants, or have an immigrant in their family, and people who don't know anyone from outside the U.S.," Jackson said.

"But it really pales when you at look at Republican and Democrat. And really compared to Fox and CNN," he said.

We asked, for example, whether immigrants are "an important part of American identity." Barely half of Fox viewers said yes, compared with more than 70 percent of network TV and CNN viewers.

We asked whether the U.S. has a "moral obligation" to accept refugees. Only a quarter of Fox viewers said we do.

Pollster Chris Jackson says some of the biggest disagreements are over what's really motivating asylum-seekers to come here.

"CNN viewers, 68 percent of them think these people are fleeing real danger, real persecution. Whereas only 20 percent of Fox News viewers believe that," said Jackson.

"On the other hand, 72 percent — so almost three quarters of Fox News viewers — think that refugee and asylum seekers are just taking advantage of the system," Jackson said. "They're trying to cheat their way in."

It's not surprising, then, that there's a sharp difference in how our poll respondents view the separation of migrant families who cross the border illegally, many of them seeking asylum.

"It's really the parents' responsibilities. They're the ones who take the kids through this ordeal to try to come to America," said Tricia McCary of Riverside, Calif. in a follow-up interview.

McCary immigrated to the U.S. from China, legally, when she was 14, and is now a U.S. citizen. She said she rejected CNN as "fake news" after the 2016 election. Now McCary watches Fox News because she says it's "unbiased," and its coverage tends to match her views about undocumented immigrants.

"They're taking resources. They're taking jobs. And they're not contributing back to the community," McCary said.

Contrast that with one poll respondent who doesn't watch Fox.

"I think that Fox News feeds on fear," said Bethany Bunnell, a Christian missionary in Minneapolis, in an interview.

Bunnell says she gets her news from CNN and other online sources. She says the United States has an obligation to help people making the dangerous journey to the Southwest border to escape from violence and persecution.

"It would have to be a desperate situation to push them to such desperate measures," Bunnell said. "I feel like we have the capacity to help. And why not welcome them?"

That said, the problem of what to do about asylum seekers divides Bunnell's own family, just like it does the rest of the country.

She says her parents watch Fox News.
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org/.