Immigration and polling: an example

The Pew Research Centre published a new poll about Mexican immigration to the U.S.:

“A new survey about preferences and trends in Mexico concludes that one out of every three Mexicans would migrate to the United States if given the opportunity. The survey published Tuesday by the Washington-based Pew Research Center also says that of the 34% of Mexicans who indicated they would like to move to the U.S., 17% “would do so without authorization,” meaning without legal documents.”

(Source: CNN)

There was an increasing number of people who migrated from Mexico to the United States in the 1990s and 2000s and stayed. However, since about 2009-10, the total number of “irregular” Mexicans living in the United States has remained at about 11 million.

34 per cent of the Mexican population is 41 million people. 17 per cent of this number is nearly 7 million people.

The way I read the Pew poll is that there are 7 million people in Mexico who would move to the United States “without authorization”. Yet over the past five years, we have not seen this level of immigration occurring.

While Mexican’s continue to immigrate to the U.S. (offset by some returning both by force and by choice), 7 million is implausibly high. Entering the United States without authorisation is possible now. Further, in the article, a Pew spokesperson says the same poll conducted five years ago showed very similar results. While what people say to pollsters has not changed in five years, their revealed preference (what they actually do) has.

So what then do we learn from this type of polling?

We know these people are not going to arrive in the United States tomorrow, if at all. I think we learn very little about migration from these polls but we do discover how people view opportunities and some level of preference. This is important but not earth-shattering.

This also shows how the nation-state still plays an overwhelming role in controlling the movement of people across borders. Some are keen to discuss the decline of the nation-state yet many people in the world (and apparently 34 per cent of Mexicans) would tend to disagree.

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