Gallup: 60 Percent of Americans Are Concerned About Illegal Immigration

But Democrats have never been less worried, which may be why Biden isn’t doing anything

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 21, 2022

On April 19, Gallup released the results of a poll conducted between March 1 and 18 asking respondents how worried they are about illegal immigration. Forty-one percent of respondents worried “a great deal” about aliens in the United States illegally, and another 19 percent were worried “a fair amount”. A plurality of Democrats (44 percent), however, weren’t worried at all about illegal immigration. That may be why the administration isn’t doing anything to fix the Southwest border — though two key political analysts see as a tidal wave of illegal migrants there as a major liability for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections.

Poll Results. Gallup surveyed a random sample of 1,017 adults in the United States and gave them a list of problems facing the country. One of those problems was illegal immigration, and respondents were asked how much they personally were worried about it. They were given four choices: a “great deal”; a “fair amount”; “only a little”; or “not at all”.

Overall, 41 percent of respondents said that they were worried a great deal about illegal immigration, while 19 percent said that they were worried a fair amount about it. Another 17 percent asserted that they were only a little worried about illegal immigration, and 23 percent responded that they were not worried at all.

That is the highest number of Gallup respondents who asserted that they were worried a great deal about illegal immigration since March 2011 (42 percent), when the United States was making its way out of the “Great Recession”. But, it was also the highest number of respondents who stated that they were not worried about illegal immigration at all in the 21 years that Gallup has been asking the question.

If that seems odd, it is, at least at first blush. One main reason for this seeming discrepancy is that, as noted, 44 percent of Democrats are not worried about illegal immigration at all.

In fact, as Gallup explains, “Democrats have never worried less about illegal immigration.” This marks the most recent milestone in a 16-year trend, during which members of the Party of Jackson have become increasingly less concerned about aliens coming to and remaining in the United States illegally.

In March 2006, just 12 percent of Democrats were not worried at all about illegal immigration, while 42 percent were worried a great deal. By January 2014, the “worry a great deal” and “don’t worry at all” Democrats were virtually tied, at 29 to 28 percent, respectively.

Those Democrats who were utterly unconcerned ebbed a bit over the next five years, but by January 2019 they carried the day: 31 percent of Democrats then were not concerned by illegal immigration at all, 18 percent were concerned a fair amount, but just 16 percent were a great deal concerned.

The “great deal” Democrats have inched up since (accounting for 18 percent of such partisans), but they still fall well below either Independents or Republicans.

Conversely, the number of Republicans who are worried a great deal about illegal immigration is high: 68 percent, compared to just five percent of GOP respondents who don’t worry about illegal immigration at all. While that percentage of “worry a great deal” Republicans is high, it is still eight points off its record, 76 percent in January.

As with most other things, Independents are middle of the road on the issue, but they are still much more likely to be concerned about illegal immigration than not worried about it at all. Thirty-nine percent of the non-aligned worry a great deal about immigration, their highest level of concern since January 2015 (40 percent).

On the flip side, just 21 percent of Independents stated that they were not worried about illegal immigration at all, which is up from the January polling (18 percent), but down from January 2020, when 26 percent of this cohort could not have cared less about illegal immigration. Likely not coincidentally, that was at a point Trump had brought the Southwest border under control.

As the percentage of Independents who are worried a great deal or are not worried at all about illegal immigration has risen, the percentage of them who are worried a fair amount about the issue have fallen, to 17 percent from 20 percent in Gallup’s January polling. Combined, illegal immigration is a worry for 56 percent of Independents.

Democrats’ Concerns. Although Biden ran as a reasonable and adult moderate, many of his policies across the board since taking office have appeared tailored to appeal to the progressive wing of the Democratic party.

Nowhere is that truer than on immigration. Biden’s little-noticed immigration campaign platform was largely a repudiation of Donald Trump’s policies, and almost all of it followed progressive talking points.

In fact, when he was on the campaign trail, Biden’s staff released what was called the “Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations” (for “democratic socialist” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)), each piece of which called for reining in immigration enforcement.

Either voters didn’t notice any of this, or they figured that Biden didn’t mean it (or they didn’t care), but since he took office, the president has followed the immigration and border blueprint he laid out when he was running for the job.

Which explains why the Southwest border is the calamity it is today. Border Patrol agents there set a new yearly record for apprehensions in FY 2021, apprehended more illegal migrants in March than they have in any month in the last 22 years, and have released more illegal entrants (836,000-plus) than the population of Seattle or Denver since the day Biden was sworn in.

Given how catastrophic the border has become, you may (reasonably) ask why the president hasn’t done anything to fix it? As Gallup shows, Biden’s Democratic base doesn’t care about illegal immigration, and that is the only audience that the president seems to care about.

Electoral Ramifications. The president may start caring a lot more about the state of the border in the not-too-distant future if two prominent political analysts are correct.

In an April 19 piece, CNN’s editor-at-large Chris Cillizza referenced the Gallup poll when he referred to immigration as “the new sneaky big issue of the 2022 election”. He explained:

To be clear: Inflation and gas prices — as well as more general concerns about the state and direction of the economy — continue to dominate most Americans' minds.

But, immigration — and the administration's ability to control it or not ... is nudging its way into the midterm conversation as well.

Cillizza noted that the Gallup poll was conducted in early to mid-March, weeks before the administration announced that it would end CDC orders issued under Title 42 of the U.S. Code directing the quick expulsion of illegal migrants to curb the spread of Covid-19 on May 23.

Title 42 is the only quasi-border policy of the Trump administration that Biden has retained, and it has been the only program that has prevented the debacle at the Southwest border from devolving even further into catastrophe.

Biden has not utilized those orders as vigorously as Trump did (Trump’s DHS expelled more than 88 percent of the illegal migrants it encountered under Title 42 after that measure took effect, while Biden’s has expelled just over half), but at least Title 42 has enabled CBP to try to manage the migrant flow to some degree in recent months.

Border Patrol agents apprehended an average of 6,771 illegal migrants per day at the Southwest border in March (as noted, the largest monthly total of apprehensions there in the last 22 years), but DHS estimates that it may see as many as 18,000 migrants enter illegally per day after Title 42 is lifted.

That would overwhelm the fewer than 17,000 agents in the Border Patrol’s Southwest sectors, and render them powerless to stop drugs, criminals, terrorists, and contraband from flowing straight into the United States.

Cillizza warns: “A glut of people trying to cross the border once Title 42 is rescinded — and the resulting media coverage — could make the issue top of mind for many more voters”. And not in a good way for the president or his fellow Democrats already facing strong headwinds heading into the November mid-term elections.

The CNN editor-at-large’s points were echoed by William Galston, the Wall Street Journal opinion page’s resident liberal, on April 19.

Galston, who served as Deputy Assistant to President Bill Clinton for Domestic Policy and has been around Democratic politics for decades, reluctantly admitted:

As someone who wishes the Biden administration well, I’d like to be able to support its immigration policy on the merits. But I can’t, because the policy has been a mess from day one, and the American people know it.

The main problem, he asserts, is that while “Democrats recoiled in horror at the enforcement excesses of the Trump administration ... they never reached an agreement on a strategy to replace these excesses”.

I have explained before (with actual statistics) that the contention that immigration enforcement under Trump was “excessive” is a “canard”, which may be part of the reason that the White House has no strategy to enforce the law now.

The Gallup poll reveals that to the president and his advisors (and more specifically to Biden’s liberal base), there is no illegal immigration problem that needs to be addressed, so any enforcement—be it detention of illegal entrants (as the law mandates) or the arrest and removal of criminal aliens from the interior (ditto) is “excessive”.

That said, Galston all-but concedes this point when he concludes:

No doubt gleeful Republicans will claim vindication for the Trump administration’s policies, whose malign objectives few if any Democrats have ever endorsed. But the alternative is a near-certain loss of Democratic control of the Senate, leaving Mr. Biden to face an impenetrable wall of legislative opposition as the third year of his presidency begins.

Joe Biden is “president of the United States”, not “president of the Democrats”. He must listen to the large number of Republican and Independent voters who are worried about illegal immigration. A plurality of Democrats may not be bothered by the prospect of 2.5 million illegal migrants at the Southwest border this year, but their votes alone will not be sufficient to ensure Democratic control of the House and Senate come January.