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Poll: N.H. Voters Hold Strong Opinions On Immigration — Even If They're Not Personally Affected04:39
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Pins and bumper stickers of presidential contenders in the New Hampshire primary are displayed in the State House visitors center on Nov. 14 in Concord, N.H. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Pins and bumper stickers of presidential contenders in the New Hampshire primary are displayed in the State House visitors center on Nov. 14 in Concord, N.H. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Regardless of political affiliation, voters in the region can agree on one thing: they're paying attention to immigration during the 2020 presidential race.

A new WBUR poll finds likely primary voters in New Hampshire have strong opinions about immigration policy, even though it's had little impact on them personally.

Manchester is the largest and one of the more diverse cities in a state that is 90% white. Just 6% of the state's population is born outside of the U.S.

Xtophr Talon says he's lived in Manchester for six years now after serving in the U.S. military. Though he calls himself apolitical, he understands why immigration is an important topic to voters.

"I think it resonates with people across the board because everyone is concerned with their own quality of living. On the other hand, we're also aware of community," he says.

The WBUR poll drills down deeper, asking likely primary voters how immigration has affected them personally, as well as the region and country.

Most Republican (topline, crosstabs) and Democratic (topline, crosstabs) voters in New Hampshire say they've felt no direct impact from immigration, and specifically, that it's had no effect on either their family or their town.

But Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group, says lack of personal experience doesn't stop voters from forming opinions about how immigration impacts the country as a whole.

"We found that people had more of a view of what the impacts [of immigration] were the further away from themselves you got," he explains. "And that's where you really saw, I think in the starkest relief, the difference between Democrats and Republicans."

Half of Republican primary voters polled say immigration negatively affects the country.

Half of the Democratic voters say the exact opposite: immigration is good for the country. Across both primaries the poll finds men take a slightly harder line on immigration than women. The same goes for wealthier voters and voters with a high school education.

Manchester resident Bill Hicks is taking a break from shopping at the Mall of New Hampshire with his wife and daughter.

Hicks, who's wearing a U.S. Navy veteran hat and considers himself an independent, shakes his head "no" when asked if immigration policies have affected him or his family.

Still, he's quick with an answer about where he stands on immigration.

"Come in the right way — that's the way they should come in," Hicks says. "They're coming into this country for a free ride, and they shouldn't have a free ride, I think."

That said, in Hicks' view, President Trump's immigration policies have not made the country any safer. That puts him in line with likely Democratic primary voters. In fact, only 10% of Democratic voters say they feel safer as a result of Trump's immigration policies.

Most Republican voters — 55% — say the U.S. is more secure because of the Trump administration's tougher immigration policies.

Of course, poll results only go so far in illustrating what motivates a voter's stance on a complicated topic like immigration.

Hicks' daughter, 24- year-old Courtney Rogers, says she's progressive on most issues, including immigration. She's learned a lot, she says, from her best friend, who is the daughter of refugees.

"I believe in gray areas, and I kind of live in gray areas," Rogers says. "I don't think that immigration can be as black and white as the current administration makes it."

"I think that we've villainized these people for no reason and that really breaks my heart," she adds.

About four out of five Democratic voters feel the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees fleeing war, persecution or natural disasters. Only about a third of Republican voters feel that way, and more feel the U.S. has no responsibility.

Primary voters have less than two months to decide which candidate's immigration policies they support, even if those policies ultimately aren't felt in New Hampshire.

This segment aired on December 12, 2019.

Related:

Shannon Dooling Twitter Reporter
Shannon Dooling is an immigration reporter at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station.

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