Voters Have an Increasingly Negative Outlook on U.S. Immigration System Under Biden
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Voters’ evaluation of the American immigration system has worsened during Joe Biden’s presidency as the country looks back more fondly on former President Donald Trump’s border record, according to a new Morning Consult survey.
Voters Have Become More Pessimistic About Biden’s Immigration Record, and Less Pessimistic About Trump’s
Trump’s advantage on immigration has grown
- Nearly half of voters (47%) say the U.S. immigration system has gotten worse under the Biden administration, up from 40% in March 2021, when the surge of migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border began to garner major media attention. A slim majority (51%) of independents and 82% of Republicans see a worsening system under Biden.
- Just 1 in 5 voters said the country’s immigration system has improved over Biden’s tenure, mostly driven by 36% of Democratic voters.
- Looking back, 44% of voters now say the immigration system improved from the status quo when Trump was president, up from 40% two years ago, compared with 32% who said it has gotten worse, a decline of 8 percentage points since that 2021 survey.
Immigration continues to cause political heartburn for Biden
Immigration has been one of Biden’s weakest issues throughout his presidency, with 47% disapproving of his handling of the matter according to a separate Morning Consult survey. While that represents an improvement from 56% at the beginning of the year, it’s still worse than 39% of voters who disapproved of Biden’s immigration handling at the start of his presidency and remains a weak spot as he prepares a re-election bid.
Voters are more likely to trust Trump than Biden to handle immigration (48% to 39%), marking the largest advantage by the GOP front-runner for the 2024 presidential nomination over the incumbent among 17 issues tracked. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seen as the other top contender for the GOP nomination, is also more trusted than Biden on immigration, albeit by a smaller margin of 43% to 37%.
In the face of this trust gap and the president’s poor marks, the Biden administration has sought to cast itself as more aggressive on illegal immigration, including its reported consideration of family detention when the coronavirus-related Title 42 public health emergency expires in May.
That hasn’t stopped congressional Republicans, who are also more trusted on the issue than their Democratic counterparts, to hammer the White House. House Republicans have regularly held field hearings on the border, and lawmakers in both chambers have repeatedly attacked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, with some pushing for his impeachment.
During congressional testimony this week, Mayorkas sought to defend his approach to the issue, saying his department was surging resources to the border and claiming his agents have seized record amounts of the deadly drug fentanyl at ports of entry.
While those defenses are rooted in fact, they do little to assuage voters’ concerns that the Biden administration’s approach is ineffective, according to a survey experiment.
Exposure to Info on Border Arrests, Fentanyl Seizures Changes Little About Voters’ Views on Biden’s Border Policies
Few voters see migrant arrests, drug seizures as proof of a functioning immigration system
- The survey offered a split-sample test: A third of voters were asked about the effectiveness of the Biden administration’s approach to the U.S.-Mexico border with no prompt, while another third was given information about fentanyl seizures and another was told about thousands of migrant border apprehensions.
- Given no prompt, the majority of voters (55%) said the Biden administration’s approach to the U.S.-Mexico border is ineffective, compared with 25% who said it is effective.
- The messaging on fentanyl seizures increased the share who see Biden’s approach as effective a bit, to 29%, but the border arrest data made no impact on voters’ views of Biden’s effectiveness on the issue.
The latest Morning Consult survey was conducted March 24-26, 2023, among a representative sample of 1,977 registered voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Eli Yokley is a senior data reporter at Morning Consult covering politics and campaigns. @eyokley