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Americans' attitudes on immigration are shifting

Father Jose Landaverde and Emma Lazano sit in front of the building which houses immigration court during a protest May 15, 2012 in Chicago, Ill.

Kai Ryssdal: The Romney campaign stopped in Orlando, Fla., today. Gov. Romney spoke to a group of Latino elected officials about immigration. President Obama takes his turn tomorrow.

The speeches come, of course, on the heels of the White House announcement last week. No more deportations of otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants who were brought here as children.

Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief of Gallup. We have him on each week for an Attitude Check, what Americans think about the news of the moment. Frank, good to have you back.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you.

Ryssdal: So what do we know about how Americans feel about the president's decision last week on immigration?

Newport: All the available evidence shows that a majority of Americans support the idea of not deporting these young people, if they meet those qualifications.

Ryssdal: Do Americans differ on how they regard the two facets of immigration -- by which I mean, stopping the flow of illegal immigrants versus finding a solution for those illegal immigrants already here?

Newport: Yeah, they sure do, and that's changed. Historically, we've given Americans the trade-off between the two, and always stopping the flow of immigrants coming in has been number one, but this year we found a flip. I think that's probably because the inflow of illegal immigrants has slowed down, so now all of a sudden, we find that, Kai, the majority of Americans saying the most important concern is dealing with illegal immigrants here in the country. Of course, that's part of what the Obama administration announcement last week dealt with.

Ryssdal: Right. This has become inevitably political. The president and Gov. Romney are giving --

Newport: Shocking.

Ryssdal: Yeah, I know. They are giving competing speeches today to a large Latino group. My question, though, is: Does it play politically? Is it, apart from the politics of it, a political issue -- if that makes any sense? Because you'd think that the president's going after the Latino vote with this, but my guess would be is he already polls pretty well with Latinos.

Newport: He does. I think a lot of the concern on the part of his campaign team is motivation and turnout. So the announcement kind of helps solidify him, at least they hope.

Ryssdal: To get the Latinos out to the ballot box, right?

Newport: That's absolutely right.

Ryssdal: Immigration as an issue for Americans overall is probably like, what, 997th or something?

Newport: 998. We recently said to the Obama voters: Why are you supporting him? And to Romney voters: Why are you supporting him? Immigration just doesn't show up at all. It's not an important issue overall, and some of our research shows even among Hispanics who are registered voters, immigration is actually no more important than a lot of the same economic concerns that affect everybody else.

Ryssdal: One more question, Frank, and it's a little bit out of left field: What do you know about how Americans feel about cussing?

Newport: We've asked almost every question under the sun since we started in 1935 here at Gallup, but to my knowledge, I'm not sure we've ever asked people whether or not they approve of cussing. I guess that's a fascinating question, and I have no idea.

Ryssdal: Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief at Gallup. If you want to know more about our partnership, we call it Attitude Check, by the way. Frank, we'll talk to you next week.

Newport: I'll look forward to it.

Ryssdal: I asked about the cussin', because this morning the Supreme Court overruled the Federal Communications Commission on a bunch of nudity and profanity cases. Not about the actual nudity and profanity, just that the FCC didn't do the paperwork right.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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