Gallup: Immigration Surges to the Top of Americans’ Concerns

Three polls the president and Congress ignore at their peril

By Andrew R. Arthur on March 7, 2024

With Super Tuesday ended and the 2024 presidential electoral matchup pitting former President Donald Trump against current President Joe Biden set (for now), immigration is now Americans’ leading concern according to a poll released last week by Gallup. That survey is no outlier, and the question now is whether the incumbent and Congress can address voters’ angst over the crisis at the Southwest border in the next eight months. If they can’t, they may be looking for new jobs come January.

Gallup. The results of that poll were released on February 27, with 28 percent of respondents identifying “immigration” as “the most important problem facing this country today”. That puts the issue in first place out of 15 topics polled, solidly beating out “government” (20 percent), the “economy in general” (12 percent), “inflation” (11 percent), and “crime” (3 percent).

Even if you combine the economy and inflation — closely intertwined issues — immigration is still a bigger concern. That is nothing short of tectonic, especially since just one month earlier, immigration was just the second biggest issue for Americans, at 20 percent, trailing the economy by one point.

It’s not entirely clear why Americans are suddenly focused on immigration, given that the Southwest border is in no better or worse shape than two years ago, but migrant crises in northern cities, the Senate’s failure to pass a border bill, and recent high-profile crimes committed by migrants have likely played a major role.

Separately, that poll revealed that 55 percent of Americans view “large numbers of immigrants entering the United States illegally” as a “critical threat” to the United States over the next 10 years. Gallup has been polling on this question since 2004, and never in that two-decade period have Americans’ concerns about the unauthorized population been so heightened.

By contrast, at the outset of the Trump administration in 2018, just 38 percent of Gallup respondents said that illegal immigration would be a critical threat in the succeeding decade. When the question was first asked, in 2004 with September 11 fresh in Americans’ minds, just half of those polled saw illegal immigration as a critical threat.

There was, not surprisingly, a partisan split on this question, with 90 percent of Republicans viewing illegal immigration as a critical threat (up from 84 percent a year ago), compared to just 29 percent of Democrats. That said, 29 percent is a nine-point rise on the issue among the president’s fellow partisans over that period.

The biggest reasons for the increase on this issue, however, are rising concerns about illegal immigration among Independents, 54 percent of whom now view it as a critical threat, compared to 40 percent who took that position in 2023.

Wall Street Journal. On March 3, the Wall Street Journal released the results of its latest poll of 1,754 registered voters, conducted between February 21 and 28.

It revealed that “immigration” will be the most important issue on voters’ minds when they head to the ballot box in November, the choice of 20 percent of respondents, up from 13 percent in the same poll conducted two months before.

Immigration switched positions with the “economy” — the biggest issue for 14 percent of respondents in the latest poll compared to 21 percent in December — as voters’ number-one electoral concern. As the Journal noted, this is “a rare instance of any issue topping the economy as most prominent on voters’ minds”.

Separately, according to that poll, just 29 percent of voters approve of the job President Biden is doing when it comes to handling immigration (just 7 percent “strongly” approving) and just 30 percent are pleased with his performance in “securing the border” (with only 9 percent “strongly” in approval).

By contrast, 66 percent of the electorate disapproves of Biden’s immigration performance (54 percent strongly so), and 65 percent disapprove of the president’s efforts to secure the border (53 percent of whom strongly disapproved on that question).

And respondents to that poll think things are only getting worse, with 71 percent of voters saying that immigration and border security are headed in the “wrong direction”, compared to just 16 percent who think those issues are headed in the “right direction”.

Neither Trump nor congressional Republicans should be patting themselves on the back or taking victory laps, however.

That’s because while 45 percent of respondents agree with the statement “President Biden reversed Trump's executive orders on the border which opened our borders, and he failed to use the power he has had all along to seal the border and clamp down on illegal immigration,” 38 percent agreed that “Republicans killed a bipartisan deal they and Democrats negotiated that would reduce the number of migrants coming into the country only because Trump told them he didn't want to help Democrats.”

It’s safe to say the electorate is tired of excuses as to why the border is insecure and illegal immigration is out of control — they just want it fixed.

Fox News. Finally, on March 3, Fox News released the results of its latest poll, conducted between February 25 and 28, of 1,262 registered voters.

In that poll, 66 percent of respondents disapproved of the president’s handling of immigration, compared to less than a third, 31 percent of voters, who approved. That ties Biden’s lowest approval rate on immigration, reached in a similar poll Fox News conducted in November 2021.

That said, just 59 percent of the voters in that earlier poll disapproved of the job the president is doing on immigration, the difference between now and then being 10 percent of respondents who hadn’t yet made up their minds.

Apparently, 7 percent of them have now decided, and they don’t like the job Joe Biden is doing on immigration: that 66 percent disapproval rate for the president’s handling of immigration in the most recent Fox News poll is the highest it’s ever been in the 34 months the outlet has polled on this question.

That’s not good for Biden’s reelection prospects, because 21 percent of voters in that poll stated that immigration would be their most important issue come the election, up from 11 percent last August.

Unlike the Journal poll, however, the economy took the top spot on that question according to Fox News, identified as the main concern for 37 percent of respondents when they cast their ballots in November, down one point from the outlet’s earlier poll.

These three polls are, of course, just a snapshot, and November is a long way off. That said, President Biden and members of Congress should start paying attention, and begin fixing illegal immigration and securing the border, lest they find themselves on the outside looking in come January.