A recent Fox News poll shows that the Republicans who recently assumed control of the House of Representatives enjoy significant support from voters on their immigration and border policies. That’s an advantage that the party will either build on — or lose.
The Poll. Between February 19 and 23, Braun Research, Inc. — under the joint direction of Beacon Research (a Democratic opinion outfit) and Shaw & Company Research (a GOP shop) — conducted interviews with 1,006 registered voters nationwide for Fox News. The margin of error in the resulting poll is plus or minus three percentage points.
Biden’s Job Performance. The pollsters asked respondents whether they approved or disapproved of the job that Joe Biden’s doing as president. While 44 percent approved of Biden’s performance (20 percent “strongly”), 55 percent disapproved (38 percent strongly).
Biden’s approval rating in that poll has been stuck in the 44 percent to 46 percent range for months, but he’s actually faring better than he was during the summer, when his approval cratered to a low for his administration of 40 percent, and early fall.
That said, those who strongly disapprove of Biden’s performance as president have been stuck in the 38 percent to 41 percent range since last February, likely evidencing something more than just a partisan lean.
The president received particularly low marks on inflation. Just 31 percent of respondents approved of Biden’s handling of that issue compared to the two-out-of-three respondents (66 percent) who disapproved.
That said, he’s not doing much better on his handling of the economy, guns, the opioid epidemic, or immigration — all areas in which he garners just a 36 percent approval rating.
Of those four issues, Biden receives particularly low ratings on the economy and immigration: 62 percent of respondents disapprove of his handling of the former (only 2 percent don’t have an opinion), and 61 percent aren’t pleased with the job that he is doing on the latter (just 3 percent don’t know what to think).
That’s particularly interesting as it relates to Biden’s immigration performance, because as recently as September (when the president’s rating was 32 percent approval vs. 60 percent disapproval on the subject), 8 percent of respondents didn’t have an opinion one way or the other.
The percentage of respondents who don’t have an opinion about Biden’s handling of immigration likely has declined since that earlier polling because most media outlets then weren’t covering the disaster at the Southwest border. In fact, the vast majority of outlets ignored the border until New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) began complaining about the costs of the migrants who were arriving in his city in July.
Thanks to Adams’ grumblings, the border was on the radar of most in the media by late December, when migrants began massing there in advance of the anticipated end of Title 42 (which has subsequently been postponed indefinitely while the Supreme Court looks into the matter).
It will be difficult at this rate for the administration to shift the narrative on the president’s handling of the border crisis, which as I have explained directly affects their impressions of immigration generally.
That’s not to say that Biden won’t be able to improve voters’ impressions on the issue, as the White House and its media allies will put their best face on Biden’s most recent border initiatives, but the president’s going to be digging himself out of a pretty big immigration hole.
Most Important Issue Facing the Country. The difficulty that Biden faces in shifting the border narrative will be especially complicated, given that the Fox News poll shows that voters believe “immigration and border security” is the second most important issue facing the country, second only to the economy.
Respondents were asked which of nine separate issues was the most important facing the country, and while 36 percent said it was the economy, 13 percent picked immigration and the border. “Climate change” was the only other issue that broke double digits (10 percent of respondents identified it as the most important issue), while topics like abortion (5 percent) and foreign policy (4 percent) trailed.
Curiously, voters’ concerns about the economy have cooled in the last two months (it was the most important issue for 42 percent of voters in December), but concerns about immigration and border security have remained steady.
There are lessons in those results for both Democrats and Republicans.
Democrats leveraged voters’ concerns about abortion effectively in the November midterms (it was the biggest issue for Democratic voters in the last election, according to NBC News exit polling), and you can expect Democrats to ramp up their messaging on the issue heading into the 2024 general election.
Conversely, many Republican candidates did not take strong positions on immigration and the border in the 2022 midterms, likely to their disadvantage. The GOP needs to clarify its stance on Biden’s handling of the border and present concrete solutions that will deter, at least in part, the tens of thousands of migrants who are currently crossing the Southwest border each month.
Republicans will also need to underscore the deleterious effects of the current open border on schools, hospitals, municipal coffers, the drug crisis, and the job prospects and wages and working conditions of poor and lower-middle-class Americans.
House control will give them a platform to do that, but it will require deftness to avoid appearing shrill. It will also require them to explain to the American people how bad the situation at the Southwest border is (as I’ve previously explained, most Americans have no idea just how many migrants are entering illegally), to deflect complaints that they are overly alarmist.
Which Party Would Do a Better Job on Immigration and the Border? Fortunately for congressional Republicans, they are starting from a position of strength according to the Fox News poll.
Respondents were asked “which political party — the Democrats or the Republicans — do you think would do a better job on” a variety of issues, including both immigration and border security.
Democrats are preferred strongly over Republicans on many of those issues, including “climate change” (61 percent prefer Democrats doing the job vs. 33 percent for the GOP), health care (with 59 percent trusting Democratic handling to 36 percent Republican), and abortion (59 percent D, 38 percent R).
On fiscal issues like taxes (an area in which Republicans hold an eight-point edge, with 52 percent trusting their handling of the issue compared to 44 percent who preferred Democrats’), the budget deficit (12 points in the plus column for the GOP, 53 percent to 41 percent), and the economy (15+R, with 40 percent preferring for Democratic handling to 55 percent opting for the Party of Lincoln), Republicans hold a clear advantage.
Then, there is immigration and border security.
Voters trust Republicans’ handling of immigration by a 10-point margin, 52 percent to 42 percent. That’s narrower than the party split in January polling, however, when the GOP held a 15-point edge on their handling of immigration, 56 percent to 41 percent among registered voters.
It’s possible the president’s brief and glowing assessment of his own immigration achievements during the February 7 State of the Union address sold some otherwise skeptical voters on Democrats’ ability to handle immigration, or perhaps the failure of House Republicans to do more on immigration during their first month in power has voters concerned that they’re all talk and little action. It should concern new Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), however.
That said the GOP held a bigger advantage over Democrats on border security than on any other single-issue area. In the Fox News poll, 60 percent of respondents preferred GOP handling of the issue, compared to 36 percent who favored Democrats.
That 24-point Republican lean fell short of the 28-point margin that Democrats hold on climate change, but it was greater than the advantage voters gave Democrats on subjects like healthcare (D+23), Medicare (also D+23), and even abortion (D+20).
More importantly for McCarthy and his conference, however, it’s the biggest advantage that the GOP has held on border security in the almost 17 years that Fox News has polled on the issue (the question was first asked in July 2006, when Republicans held just a six-point edge).
And aside from the Democrats’ clear advantage among voters in handling climate change, and a brief 29-point edge that respondents gave Democrats on healthcare in July 2006, it’s the biggest differential respondents to the Fox News poll have given either party on any other given issue ever.
Republicans have room to grow voters’ support for their immigration policies, but border security is a subject that is the GOP’s to lose. Conversely, absent some sort of real and lasting policy shift by the White House, the disaster at the Southwest border will be a drag on the electoral prospects of Biden and congressional Democrats in 2024.
That latter point is especially true since voters are just beginning to feel the effects of Biden’s immigration and border policies in their communities. Mayor Adams’ voice may be the loudest, but he’s not the only local executive whose municipal coffers are being drained to care for an unexpected surge of migrants.
The latest Fox News poll shows that, through his unpopular policies, Joe Biden has dealt congressional Republicans a strong hand on immigration and border security. Whether they can continue to assure voters to trust them to secure the border and limit illegal entries is the question, but those issues are the GOP’s to lose.