Harvard/Harris: Inflation, Economy, and Immigration Are the Leading Midterm Issues

With the GOP highly favored on immigration

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 25, 2022

With election day about two weeks away, and early voting already underway in most of the country, Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies and opinion outfit Harris have released their latest poll. It shows inflation, the economy, and immigration are the leading issues on voters’ minds, and that respondents believe that Republicans are most focused on all three — immigration in particular.

The Poll. This is a massive poll of 2,010 registered voters, conducted between October 12 and 13.

Biden Management of Various Issues. Respondents were asked their opinion of Biden’s management of a series of issues. The results were not good for the president.

On the positive side from the White House’s perspective, 51 percent approved of Biden’s reaction to Covid-19, 46 percent approved of the way he’s stimulating jobs, and 44 percent approved of how Biden is administering the government and fighting terrorism, respectively.

The bad, however, far outweighs the good. Just 39 percent approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, while an equal percentage approve of Biden’s response to violence and crime. It just gets worse from there, because just 35 percent of respondents approve of the president’s management of inflation, which is even worse than he is viewed on immigration, an area in which Biden received just 38 percent approval.

Most Important Issues Facing the Country Today. Those numbers are even worse than they appear, because voters don’t care that much about many areas in which, in their minds at least, Biden excels.

When asked what they would say were the most important issues facing the country today, just 9 percent said Covid-19, while 11 percent responded, “national security and terrorism”.

As noted, while Biden does comparatively well on jobs, he fares poorly when it comes to the economy. Those two issues together, “economy and jobs”, are the second-most-important issue in the minds of respondents, at 29 percent. Inflation, a subject on which Biden received his lowest marks, is the most important issue in the minds of the voters, at 37 percent.

Then, there is immigration, which 23 percent of respondents to the Harvard/Harris poll said was among the most important issues facing the United States, putting it in third place out of 25 subject areas.

And it’s in third place with a bullet, because although inflation weighs most heavily on the minds of respondents, it’s down three points in importance from the last Harvard/Harris poll. Immigration, on the other hand, is up two points, surging as an issue before the midterms.

Notably, no other issue — not “crime and drugs” (18 percent), “women’s rights” (17 percent), “health care” or “guns” (tied at 15 percent), or “environment/climate change” (14 percent) — broke the 20-percent threshold.

The interest in immigration is likely due to two factors: A record-setting level of illegal migration at the Southwest border that has created a humanitarian disaster at the U.S.-Mexico line; and efforts by Republican border-state governors to bus illegal entrants released by DHS in their states to northern cities with a heavy media presence.

When Governors Greg Abbott (R-Texas) and Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) undertook that busing program, the border was in as bad a shape as it is today, but some combination of the administration and media managed to ignore it. As buses pull into Washington, D.C.’s Union Station and the Port Authority in Manhattan daily, however, those aliens are dropped on the media’s doorstep.

Curiously, however, the disproportionate response of the Democratic mayors of those cities to their newfound migrant surge has done as much as anything to keep the border on the front burner. When New York and D.C. are struggling with a few thousand migrants, it underscores for American voters what residents in El Paso and Uvalde must deal with daily.

GOP Focus on Leading Issues. Fortunately for the fates of the Republicans who are competing in the midterm elections, respondents to the Harvard/Harris poll believe that GOP leadership is most concerned about the same issues that matter to them.

Some 21 percent of respondents stated that Republican leaders are most concerned with the economy and jobs, while 24 percent of voters believe that price increases/inflation lead the list of concerns for those in charge of the GOP.

And then, once again, there’s immigration. A whopping 37 percent of those polled by Harvard/Harris believe that Republican leaders are most concerned about the issue, which was viewed as the GOP’s most pressing issue by a country mile.

That’s largely likely thanks, again, to Abbott and Ducey, as well to a promise by House Minority Leader (and would-be speaker) Kevin McCarthy to make immigration and border security a primary focus of his “Commitment to America”, a roadmap for a Republican-led House in the upcoming 118th Congress.

Of course, much likely also has to do with the impression that leading Democrats appear out of touch with Americans’ border concerns. When CNN runs an article captioned “‘Hail Mary after Hail Mary’: Biden administration struggles with border policy, fueling frustration”, as it did on October 20, you know there’s a disconnect with the electorate, and between White House strategy and real-world results.

Issues that Will Affect Votes. Finally, the poll asked respondents how 10 separate issues are likely to affect their votes.

In response, 48 percent stated that inflation made them more likely to vote for the GOP, compared to 36 percent who asserted that rising costs made them more inclined to cast their ballot for the Democrats.

Similarly, 47 percent stated that crime made them more likely to vote for the Party of Lincoln, compared to 35 percent for whom this issue inclined them more to pull the Democrat lever.

And then, for a third time, there’s immigration. Forty-six percent of respondents replied that the issue made it more likely that a Republican would secure their vote, compared to 35 percent who felt more affinity for the Democratic Party on the subject.

That is the lowest score that Democrats received on any issue, save crime (with which, as noted, it’s tied) and “stopping the teaching of woke ideologies in schools” (which would prompt just 33 percent of respondents to vote for a Democrat).

Takeaways. It’s likely no coincidence that DHS decided to release its dreadful FY 2022 border numbers during a late-night “news dump” last Friday. Immigration and the border are huge vulnerabilities for a Democratic Party struggling to maintain control in an especially heated midterm election.

Conversely, it would be political malpractice for Republican candidates not to highlight immigration during their candidates’ midterm campaigns. The issue is tailor-made for McCarthy and his Senate counterpart, Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as they head toward election day on November 8.

Will it be a deciding factor? If Republicans take one or both chambers, expect most of the media to downplay the importance of immigration during their postmortem analyses. But then, most of the media has only fitfully been pulled into reporting on the mess that the administration has made of the Southwest border thus far.

With Biden taking steps to stem illegal entries by Venezuelan nationals — whose numbers and share of Border Patrol migrant apprehensions have surged of late — the White House knows that it has a real border problem with voters, even if the “Fourth Estate” as a whole has not clued into it yet.