Politics & society, Research

IGS poll: Californians oppose sanctuary city policies

A new online poll by UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies shows Californians strongly oppose sanctuary cities

Immigration law book, gavel
Californians told pollsters that local authorities should not be able to ignore federal requests to detain illegal immigrants. (iStock image.)

Californians strongly oppose “sanctuary city” policies under which local authorities ignore federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants who have been arrested but are about to be released, according to a new poll released today by the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) at UC Berkeley.

That opposition comes from strong majorities in both major political parties and among independent voters, and crosses other demographic categories. Almost two out of three Latinos said they oppose such policies.

Jack Citrin

IGS Director Jack Citrin

The online survey, which polled 1,098 California residents from Aug. 11-26, found that 74 percent of respondents said local authorities should not be able to ignore a federal request to hold a detained person who is in the country illegally. Only 26 percent of respondents said local authorities should have that right.

Opposition to the sanctuary city policies crossed the political spectrum, and included 73 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of independents.

“We found very broad-based opposition to the idea of sanctuary cities,” said IGS Director Jack Citrin, a professor of political science at UC-Berkeley who has studied immigration for years. “Californians want their local officials to abide by the requests of federal authorities.”

Within every ethnic group, majorities said local officials should defer to the federal requests. That view was expressed by 65 percent of Latino respondents, 75 percent of Asian Americans and African Americans and 80 percent of whites.

“The differences among ethnic groups in our survey were not extreme, an interesting finding given that Latinos are more likely to know someone personally affected by these issues,” Citrin said. “While these results for Latino residents are interesting, people should bear in mind some limitations on our data, including the fact that our survey was conducted only in English, and that our sample consisted almost entirely of citizens.”

Of the overall sample, 99.5 percent of respondents identified themselves as citizens.

In an additional indicator of the broad agreement on the issue, a majority of all age and income groups said local officials should abide by the federal requests, although the largest margins came from older and wealthier respondents.

To gauge the impact of a recent high-profile incident, half the respondents were simply asked about the basic policy, while the other half were also told about an undocumented immigrant who had been deported several times and went on to shoot and kill a woman in San Francisco soon after he was released from jail.

The information about the shooting had relatively little impact on the responses. When they were simply asked about the basic policy, 71 percent of respondents said cities should not be able to ignore a federal hold request. Among those who were told about the shooting, opposition to the sanctuary city policy rose to 76 percent.

“Whether they were told about the recent San Francisco shooting or not,” Citrin said, “a strong majority of respondents made it clear that local authorities should not be able to ignore a federal request to hold an undocumented immigrant.”


The poll was conducted for IGS by Survey Sampling International, using online questionnaires. There were 1,098 respondents sampled between Aug. 11 and Aug. 26. Responses for the entire sample were weighted to reflect the statewide distribution of the California population by gender, race/ethnicity, education and age. The polling data can be viewed on the IGS website.


The IGS has released a series of polls this week. Earlier stories presented results of a poll on attitudes on economic issues such as gas taxes and the minimum wage, one on attitudes about climate change regulations and a third on support for medical aid in dying for the terminally ill.