Americans Concerned Mideast Terrorism Could Spill into the United States

And, except for Dems, they strongly disapprove of Biden’s handling of immigration; ‘The Hard Truth’

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 26, 2023

The latest CBS News/YouGov poll is out, and it has a lot of bad news both for the White House and the country as a whole. Solid majorities of Americans believe the conflict between Hamas and Israel will spill into a larger regional conflict — and trigger terrorist attacks in the United States. Relatedly, Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of immigration, except for liberal Democrats, who strongly approve. A recent article in The Atlantic may shed some light on that divide.

The poll was conducted by YouGov for CBS News and surveyed 1,878 U.S. adults between October 16 and 19.

Biden Job Approval, Generally. Just 40 percent of respondents approved of Joe Biden’s handling of his job, compared to 60 percent who disapproved. Even then, Biden’s overall approval was lukewarm at best, with just 18 percent of those polled “strongly approving” of his performance, compared to 41 percent who strongly disapproved.

Given the poll’s other findings, though, it’s surprising the president is doing as well as he is. Just 28 percent think things in the country are going well, with the “somewhat well” crowd (22 percent) significantly outpolling the “very well” contingent (6 percent). By comparison, 36 percent believe things here are going “somewhat badly”, and an equal percentage opine that things are going “very badly”.

At least part of that may have something to do with Americans’ dour impression of the U.S. economy. Among those polled, just 31 percent offered an optimistic view of the economic state of the Union, with 7 percent rating the economy as “very good” and 24 percent saying that it is “somewhat good”.

By contrast, 34 percent of respondents view the economy as “very bad” and 29 percent describe our current fiscal state as “somewhat bad”. Five percent aren’t sure.

The Current Conflict Between Israel and Hamas. Biden’s doing slightly better with respect to his performance responding to the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, but not much.

Just 44 percent approve of Biden’s handling of that conflict, while 56 percent disapprove. Respondents’ reasons for their disapproval on this score are all over the map, with 24 percent stating that Biden is giving too much support to Israel and 32 percent opining that he is not supporting Israel enough.

Some 34 percent of those who believe that Biden is doing too little to support Israel complain he should be giving more weapons and supplies to them, while 54 percent of those who think Biden is doing too much to help the Israelis want him to give them fewer weapons and supplies.

Overall, 76 percent of respondents want Biden to send humanitarian aid to Israel and 57 percent want him to send humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza; 72 percent want Biden to engage in diplomacy with the other countries in the region. A slight majority of respondents overall, 52 percent, don’t want Biden to send weapons and supplies to Israel, compared to 48 percent who think he should.

Fears of a Wider War and Terrorism in the Homeland. Respondents were next asked: “How concerned are you, if at all, the conflict between Israel and Hamas could lead to a wider war involving more countries and groups in the Middle East?” On that question, the responses were not so mixed, with 45 percent answering that they were “very concerned” about an escalation and an additional 40 percent stating that they were “somewhat concerned”.

Just 21 percent responded that they were “not too concerned” (16 percent) or “not concerned at all” (5 percent) about the conflict expanding.

Then, the poll got interesting, as question number 13 asked: “How concerned are you, if at all, the conflict between Israel and Hamas could lead to terrorism in the U.S.?” The responses: “very concerned”, 45 percent; “somewhat concerned”, 34 percent; “not too concerned”, 16 percent; “not at all concerned”, 5 percent.

Given that the events of September 11th are still (somewhat) fresh in the minds of anyone aged 30 and older, it is only natural that Americans would quickly be able to comprehend the connection between Mideast conflicts involving Islamic terrorists and dangers to the Homeland.

Go into the toplines on that question, however, and you will see that even a majority of respondents (67 percent, or two-thirds) of those younger than 30 are concerned that the events in Israel will have a national security impact here, with 31 percent of respondents in that demographic “very concerned” about such spillover and 36 percent “somewhat concerned”.

Independents were more likely to respond that they were “very concerned” (42 percent) than Democrats (38 percent), while that was the response of a majority of Republicans (58 percent). Still, overall concern was the overwhelming option for a majority of both Democrats (75 percent) and the non-aligned (76 percent).

Immigration. It’s unclear from the CBS News/YouGov poll whether those terrorism concerns are connected to their discontent over immigration, where Biden received his lowest marks.

Respondents were asked for their impressions of the president’s handling of four different subjects, “the economy”, “jobs and employment issues”, “the situation with Russia and Ukraine”, and “immigration”.

Biden’s underwater on the first three: “The economy”, 37 percent approval and 63 percent disapproval (26 percent overall disapproval); “jobs and employment issues”, 44 percent approval and 56 percent disapproval (12 percent overall disapproval); “the situation with Russia and Ukraine”, 44 percent approval and 56 percent disapproval (12 percent overall disapproval).

Compared to “immigration”, however, those three topics were his strong suits. Less than a third, 32 percent, of those polled approved of Biden’s handling of immigration, compared to 68 percent who disapproved, for a whopping overall disapproval margin of 36 percent.

When the incumbent’s margin of disapproval is larger in a topic area than his cushion of support, he would logically rethink his policies. But that plainly hasn’t happened with respect to the president and his immigration policies.

That’s likely because the toplines show significant support among his fellow Democrats for Biden’s immigration policies. Some 62 percent of the president’s fellow partisans approve of the job he is doing on immigration, compared to (a not inconsiderable) 38 percent of Democrats who disapprove.

By comparison, less than a quarter, 24 percent of Independents approve of Biden’s handling of immigration, while 76 percent of those in the middle of the political road disapprove.

Reading through the toplines, however, it’s not clear where Biden’s getting any support for his immigration policies. Biden’s 42 points underwater on the subject with whites (29 percent approve/71 percent disapprove), 16 points in the red with Blacks (42 percent approve/58 percent disapprove), and 32 points down with Hispanics (34 percent approve/66 percent disapprove).

Women disapprove of Biden’s immigration policies (69 percent disapprove/31 percent approve) more strongly than men (67 percent disapprove/31 percent approve).

Biden is drawing all of his support for his immigration policies from three groups: his fellow Democrats, as noted above; liberals (61 percent approve/39 percent disapprove); and those younger than 30 (53 percent approve/47 percent disapprove). In the latter case, it’s closer than I would have guessed.

“The Hard Truth About Immigration”. Thus, the only group that appears to strongly favor Biden’s handling of immigration and the border are liberal Democrats. Some reasons why that is true may be found in a recent article, from a surprising source.

On October 23, left-leaning magazine The Atlantic published a piece by David Leonhardt, “an economics columnist for The New York Times”, headlined “The Hard Truth About Immigration: If the United States wants to reduce inequality, it’s going to need to take an honest look at a contentious issue”.

It’s a refreshing analysis of the impacts of U.S. immigration since 1965, with a special emphasis on the poor. And, although the Center is not mentioned, that article vindicates many of our key principles.

That rather lengthy article merits its own analysis (and if you care about the immigration debate, you should read it for yourself), but Leonhardt focuses on two “belief sets” he identifies as “universalism” (adherents to which “emphasize two values above all: care for others, especially the vulnerable, and fairness”) and “communalism” (whose adherents also emphasize such values coupled with “respect for authority, appreciation of tradition, and loyalty to family and community”).

He explains:

Immigration policy presents a distillation of the tensions between the two worldviews. To communalists, a government should limit arrivals and prioritize its own citizens. To universalists, national loyalties can be dangerous, and immigration can lift global living standards by allowing more people to share in a rich country’s prosperity. In recent decades, this debate has become part of the growing political polarization in many Western countries, including the United States. Surveys show that liberals tend to be universalists who support higher levels of immigration, and conservatives tend to be communalists who favor less immigration.

Maybe because I am from Baltimore, where “struggling” has been a generational way of life for many, I hew more toward the communalist mindset. But I still have some universalist tendencies, as I believe immigration is an overall good and thus must be protected and nourished.

As I have in the past, Leonhardt frames many of his points around positions taken by the late Barbara Jordan, former Democratic congresswoman from Texas and civil-rights icon, in her role as chairwoman of President Clinton’s Commission on Immigration Reform. He places special emphasis on Jordan’s belief that, as he puts it: “To nurture the American community, the federal government first needed to regain control of its immigration system.”

One Jordan quote Leonhardt should have added, but didn’t, is one that I have focused on frequently, from her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in September 1994:

Simply put, if we cannot demagnetize our economy for illegal aliens who come here to seek jobs, we cannot control illegal immigration. If we cannot control illegal immigration, we cannot sustain our national interest in legal immigration. Those who come here illegally, and those who hire them, will destroy the credibility of our immigration policies and their implementation. In the course of that, I fear, they will destroy our commitment to immigration itself.

You’ll hear many Republicans who take the similar position that they “favor legal immigration but oppose those who come here illegally”. Communalists would accept that proposition at face value, while universalists would likely see it as a mask for latent xenophobia.

Leonhardt, to a degree, falls into that trap, contending: “Many opponents of immigration are xenophobes.” He is quick to add, however: “In the 21st century, the contours of the immigration debate can seem binary: Somebody is either in favor of immigration or opposed to it.”

If like Jordan (and me) you’re a proponent of immigration, you understand that the only way to ensure Americans’ continued support for legal immigration is to “control illegal immigration”. As the CBS News/YouGov poll reveals, there’s a bloc of the electorate that nonetheless favors illegal immigration, but they’re in the minority. And as terrorism concerns grow, their numbers are likely to thin.