CBS News ‘Battleground’ Poll Reveals Importance of Immigration in Midterms

It will motivate Republicans — and Hispanics — to vote for a candidate with solutions

By Andrew R. Arthur on August 30, 2022

On August 28, CBS News released the results of what it calls its “Battleground Tracker” poll for November’s congressional midterm elections. It reveals that immigration will help drive turnout in key races, particularly among Republicans and Hispanics, for candidates with solutions.

The Poll. That poll was conducted for CBS News by opinion outfit YouGov, and included 2,126 registered voters — a massive number compared to most. The key takeaway was that the GOP is estimated to win 226 seats in the House (218 are needed to control the chamber), and Democrats 209.

That is the good news for the Party of Lincoln. The bad news for them is that this estimate could be wrong by 13 seats in either direction, leaving the GOP either in firm control or tantalizingly short of the speaker’s gavel. Majority rules in the lower chamber, so there is a lot on the line for both parties.

The Implications of Control. Should Democrats retain the majority in the House, expect more of the same of what we are seeing now with respect to immigration: Lax “control” of the Southwest border from an administration treating the Immigration and Nationality Act as words it can and should ignore based on the “observations” of “scholars and professors”.

What Americans would get from GOP control of Congress, however, is an open question. At the end of July, the “American Security Task Force” — an effort helmed by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee — unveiled a blueprint of proposals to tackle the issues at the border.

They include construction of new barriers at the Southwest border, expansion of CDC expulsion orders under Title 42 of the U.S. Code to address the ongoing fentanyl overdose crisis, reimplementation of the Trump-era “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) — better known as “Remain in Mexico”, asylum reform, and mandatory E-Verify to ensure that all workers have employment authorization.

Those are all good ideas, but none are likely to be implemented without the assent of 60 senators and the president’s signature. Even in the best-case scenario, Republicans will fall well short of that 60-vote threshold, and Biden would almost definitely veto each of those proposals even if a bill got to his desk.

What is more likely under a Speaker McCarthy is a House willing to use the “power of the purse” to curb the worst immigration abuses of the Biden administration by either increasing or withholding funding. Is the gentleman from the Golden State willing to shut down the government — and thus be painted as an obstructionist by a largely Biden-friendly media? There is no way to know.

For that reason, it’s questionable whether the “Republican party” writ large can ride immigration to House control in November, but individual Republican candidates are a different story. By tapping into the concerns of voters, particularly about the disaster at the border, they could win their own races.

The Results. Which brings me to the results of that poll. Fifty-eight percent of respondents stated that immigration will be “very important” when they vote for Congress this year, and an additional 29 percent deemed it “somewhat important”, a total importance of 87 percent.

By comparison, 81 percent of respondents asserted that the “economy” would be very important when they vote in November, and an additional 17 percent deemed the subject somewhat important, a total importance of 98 percent. Seventy-six percent and 20 percent, respectively, said the same thing about inflation (96 percent importance); 69 percent and 24 percent about “voting and election issues” (93 percent importance); and 67 percent and 25 percent about crime (92 percent importance).

In those terms, immigration is important to voters, but not necessarily “important”, if you get my drift. Digging deeper, however, reveals a lot more about how immigration could move the mid-term needle and about how important other issues being trumpeted in the media really are.

Among respondents who identified as Republican, 81 percent stated that immigration would be very important when they head to the ballot box in November, and an additional 17 percent asserted it would be somewhat important — 98 percent total. You can’t win if you can’t turn out your base, and a good immigration message will motivate Republican voters in a close election.

Similarly, 64 percent of Hispanics termed immigration as very important in how they will vote, and an additional 25 percent deemed it somewhat important (89 percent overall importance). While I can guess what those Republican voters want in terms of immigration, what the Hispanic electorate as a whole desires is a bit less clear.

We have already seen that voters in heavily Hispanic border districts in south Texas are concerned about the border, aiding the victory of Republican Mayra Flores during a special election for the Texas 34th Congressional District in June. Flores, the wife of a Border Patrol agent, called for more border control, and won by more than seven points in a district the GOP had not captured in a century.

A similar battle is shaping up in the Texas 15th Congressional District, pitting Democrat Michelle Vallejo against Republican Monica De La Cruz. De La Cruz supports Remain in Mexico and wall construction in her race for that border seat, while Vallejo denies there is “chaos” at the Rio Grande and accuses the GOP of “scapegoating” immigrants.

How immigration will play amongst Hispanic voters in Paducah, Ky., however is a different issue, but Democratic pundit Ruy Teixeira noted in March that half who voted in 2020 wanted more border spending and tighter controls on asylum. Still, there’s a reason the administration just released its new and improved administrative DACA amnesty for aliens — mostly Hispanic — brought here as minors.

Immigration Compared to Other Issues. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision (overruling its finding in Roe v. Wade that there was a constitutional right to abortion), and a spate of school shootings, Democrats have pinned their hopes for November on a pro-choice and pro-gun-control wave.

The CBS News/YouGov poll places those issues into context. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed stated that abortion would be very important when they vote in the midterms, and an additional 24 percent termed the issue somewhat important. Thus, the overall importance of the issue is 83 percent, four points lower than immigration, and almost equal among the most enthusiastic.

Interestingly, Biden is under water on the issue, which would logically benefit him and his party. Some 42 percent approve of the president’s handling of abortion, compared to 58 percent who disapprove. That could be because while 53 percent disapprove of the Supreme Court overturning Roe, 47 percent approve.

The gun question elicits a similar response. Sixty-six percent of respondents stated that gun policy will be very important when they head to the polls in November, and 24 percent asserted it would be somewhat important (for an overall importance of 90 percent).

Respondents, however, overwhelmingly disapproved of how Biden was handling gun policy, by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin. Demographically, disapproval of the president on guns was greatest among whites (by a 64 percent to 36 percent margin) and Hispanics (56 percent to 44 percent).

Politically, Independents were more critical of Biden on guns than respondents overall (66 percent disapproval compared to 34 percent approval), while Democrats and Republicans might as well live in two different countries — 71 percent of the president’s fellow partisans approve of his handling of gun policy, and 87 percent of GOP voters disapprove.

Messages for Both Parties. What does all this mean? Immigration will play an outsize role in the November elections, provided that Republican candidates and the party as a whole provide some real answers about how they will bring even a modicum of order to the Southwest border. The American Security Task Force offers concrete solutions, but voters know that the GOP will have a tough time implementing them.

So long as Republicans seeking office understand and can explain the dangers of a border in chaos and out-of-control immigration to the electorate, though, they will make some headway, even if only to prod voters into sending a message to the White House.

Democrats can negate the GOP’s advantage by forcing the administration to at least try to bring illegal entries down. A federal court order forcing the president to continue the CDC Title 42 orders it issued in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has taken the horrors at the border off the front page, but DOJ is appealing that order and Title 42 could end any day.

DHS estimates that up to 18,000 aliens will cross the Southwest border each day once Title 42 ends. Even a supine media can’t ignore the chaos that will ensue in that scenario, meaning Biden could be setting up an “October surprise” in which his party gets ensnared in November.

The CBS News/YouGov poll reveals that Americans are concerned about immigration and the border and will vote for a candidate who will represent their concerns in Washington. Whether candidates get that message in time, however, is a different question.