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Americans Don’t Agree with Steve King on Immigrants and Culture

The Iowa rep’s comments caused a media storm, but they’re not representative of American beliefs on immigration, or the trends of those beliefs.

A man listens to Rep. Steve King speak during the 2013 D.C. March for Jobs.   Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Yesterday Steve King, a Republican in the House of Representatives from Iowa, stepped in it with a tweet that praised the notorious Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders. Today he stepped in it again and jumped up and down in it like a kid in a puddle:

King, a prominent Iowa Republican and a vocal advocate against illegal immigration, tweeted Sunday, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

Asked by CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day” to clarify his comments, King said he “meant exactly what I said.”

“You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies. You’ve got to keep your birth rate up, and that you need to teach your children your values,” King said, paraphrasing remarks he said he’s delivered to audiences in Europe. “In doing so, you can grow your population, you can strengthen your culture, and you can strengthen your way of life.”

[snip]

“If you go down the road a few generations, or maybe centuries, with the inter-marriage, I’d like to see an America that is just so homogenous that we look a lot the same,” he said.

It lit up the news and drew blowback from even those in his own party—including his nominal boss, House Speaker Paul Ryan—while raising some concerns that King’s willingness to make the subtext text was a sign of the times.

But it doesn’t seem to be. King’s comments come after a well-timed survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center at the University of Chicago that puts some numbers to his ideas.

The first question might seem to show some support to King: 71 percent of respondents said that America is “losing its national identity… the beliefs and values the country represents.” But the second upends it: when asked if the country’s diversity makes America stronger or weaker, 65 percent said that it makes the country much or moderately stronger… up from 56 percent last year. (As with health care, it may be that it’s seemed to increase in value when it’s threatened.)

But perhaps most interesting were the responses given when asked what are the most important component parts of the American identity: literally, what the country means to us.

Asked to prioritize, respondents put the importance of immigration and its benefits—to them and to the country—above those of more specific European and Christian cultural verities. It’s not that the last two weren’t considered important, a majority rated them as such (and it has to be considered part of that mixture), it’s just that they took a back seat to other priorities.

And this is in keeping with long-term trends the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found a couple years ago:

When they checked up last year, the percentage that thought “controlling and reducing immigration” was a “very important goal” had fallen to a low of 45 percent; the percentage that thought “large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the U.S.” was a “critical threat” stayed the same at 43 percent—after coverage of Donald Trump was dominated by the theme of immigration throughout the 2016 campaign. The Council did, as you might expect, find a dramatic partisan divide, which may keep King safe in a heavily Republican district—but it doesn’t seem to be a view shared by Americans as a whole.

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