Immigration continues to be a downside for President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party — both nationwide, and in states that would be key to a presidential election victory come November.
Our latest swing-state surveys for Bloomberg News show the issue has gained a bit more traction among voters across the 2024 battleground, yielding no benefit for the incumbent’s standing against former President Donald Trump, while the share of voters citing economic concerns as their top voting issue has declined slightly.
State of the race
In Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, our latest monthly surveys show Biden has no advantage over Trump.
Trump Leads Biden in Seven Swing States
Biden’s standing against his likely Republican challenger is worst in North Carolina, the more conservative-leaning state of the bunch, but he also continues to face notable deficits relative to Trump in Georgia, a state that was key to his 2020 victory, and in Nevada, which Republicans have been trying to flip for multiple cycles.
As is the case with our national tracking, Biden is continuing to underperform Trump with his own base. Just 83% of voters across the seven states who backed Biden in 2020 said they’ll do so again this fall, compared with 93% of Trump’s voters last time around who said they’ll vote for him in November.
How swing-state voters think about immigration
Since November, there has been a 5 point decline across the seven states in the share of voters who rank the economy as their top issue when forced to pick one (from 41% to 36%), and a similarly sized increase in the share who say the same of immigration (from 9% to 13%).
Immigration Is the Second-Most Important Election Issue in Many Swing States
The issue weighs most heavily on voters in Arizona, a border state that has dealt intimately with the record surge in migration, and where voters are less likely than anywhere else to say the economy is their No. 1 issue. Still, the issue’s importance isn’t only elevated in Arizona, with 14% of Wisconites and 15% of Nevadans citing the issue as most concerning to them this year.
Immigration’s heightened importance places the spotlight on an issue that has been a consistent problem for Biden since he took office, and which persists when he’s compared with Trump.
Few Swing-State Voters Trust Biden to Handle Immigration
Across the swing-state map, voters are almost equally likely to trust Trump to handle the economy and immigration, while Biden’s disadvantage is as bad or worse when it comes to the border issue. The gap is worse in Nevada than any of the other seven states, but also persists in several other states, including in Pennsylvania, where Biden is relying heavily on voters to come around to him by the time ballots are counted later this year.
In the face of these dynamics, Republicans are doing a tremendous amount of work to keep the issue front and center. On Capitol Hill, House Republican lawmakers are trying to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over his handling of the border and some conservatives on both sides of the campus are pressing to capitulate to Trump’s desire to kill an emerging bipartisan border accord.
While Democrats have accused Republicans of playing politics with national security on a border deal that would unlock funding for international priorities like Israel and Ukraine, the GOP appears to be betting that voters will not blame them for the immigration problems continuing to unfold under Biden’s watch.
Republicans and Trump Face Little Blame for Border Surge
When it comes to domestic actors, swing-state voters are more likely to blame Biden than anyone else for the increase in migrant crossings. Across the seven states, 41% blame the incumbent president and 35% blame his party on Capitol Hill, compared with 14% each who blame congressional Republicans or the Trump administration.
That isn’t to say that voters in the 2024 battleground states do not take into account root causes of migration outside of the United States: More than 2 in 5 voters (including larger shares especially in Arizona) cite foreign corruption and economic turmoil as drivers of the border problem, as the Biden administration has previously argued. But they’re still almost equally likely to blame Biden as they are factors abroad, underlining the political peril Biden faces on the issue.
The bottom line
The economy remains most voters’ overriding concern, but there are signs in the data suggesting it may be becoming a little less prevalent. That sets the stage for the rise of other issues — potentially ones like democracy or abortion rights where congressional Democrats have a trust advantage. But for now immigration is more front and center.
If conservative lawmakers do heed Trump’s call to tank bipartisan border security legislation, the Democrats might have found a fighting chance to try to shift the trust paradigm — if they can overcome the hard task of getting voters to pay attention to this piece of Washington inside baseball.
A still greater problem, however, is that beyond immigration, Biden is unpopular and distrusted to handle a whole range of matters. This suggests he’ll need to do the larger work of making this year’s election more of a referendum on Trump and his Republican party than on his own presidency, something the GOP frontrunner has proved willing to help with in the past.