Harvard/Harris Poll Shows Immigration Remains Major Concern for Voters

Democrats may have dodged a ‘red wave’, but if the border remains in chaos, their luck could run out

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 12, 2022

The latest poll from Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies (CAPS), market research firm Harris X, and The Harris Poll is out, and it shows immigration remains a key concern for Americans. President Biden continues to receive low points on the issue, which is likely the reason that it drove Republican voters to the polls in the November midterm elections. Democrats may have dodged a red wave, but if the border remains in chaos or gets even worse, their luck could run out.

The Poll. The Harris Poll and Harris X polled 2,212 registered voters between November 16 and 17 online, “weighted for age within gender, region, race/ethnicity, marital status, household size, income, employment, education, political party, and political ideology where necessary”.

The poll was not a perfect reflection of voters’ attitudes during and after the midterm elections. In its “Midterm Post-Mortem”, 49 percent of respondents stated that they voted for a Democrat, 46 percent for a Republican, and 3 percent for “Other”.

CNN’s election results, on the other hand, showed that 50.7 percent of votes for the House of Representatives were cast for the GOP and 47.7 percent for Democrats, leaving 1.6 percent for an “Other”.

That said, there was a lot of ticket-splitting by voters between parties (the poll shows 24 percent of respondents split their votes between the two parties), which explains why, for example, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) was reelected with 53.4 percent of the vote, while Peach State voters gave 51.4 percent of their votes to Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) in his reelection runoff bid.

Biden Approval. The president’s approval ratings are inching up according to that poll, but only “incrementally”. Forty-three percent of respondents approve of Biden’s performance, up from 42 percent in a similar poll conducted one month prior.

That’s the good news for the president. The bad news is that Biden remains underwater with registered voters, with 54 percent disapproving of the job he is doing, 37 percent “strongly” (Biden received strong approval from just 21 percent of respondents).

It’s still marginally better, however, than voters’ support for Biden’s immigration performance, which just 40 percent of respondents approved. That’s tied with voters’ support for his ability to deal with violence and crime in the country (also 40 percent approval) and running ahead of his handling of the economy (with 39 percent of respondents approving) and Biden’s handling of inflation (38 percent).

Immigration as an Issue. Biden’s low scores on inflation, the economy, and immigration are a problem for the White House because those are the subjects that weigh most heavily on the minds of voters.

When respondents were asked what “the most important issues facing the country today” were (there were 26 total responses), 39 percent said “price increases and inflation”, while 27 percent answered the “economy”, and 23 percent said “immigration”. Only crime and drugs (at 20 percent) broke the 20-percent threshold among other responses, while issues like January 6 (7 percent), voting rights (7 percent), and policing (4 percent) failed to break double digits.

Immigration is a much bigger issue for Republican voters than it is for those who cast a ballot for a Democrat.

Respondents to that poll were asked to pick from a list of six issues (“the economy/inflation”, “protecting democracy”, “abortion/women’s rights”, “crime/safety issues”, “immigration”, and “other”) that was the “most important” in how they voted in November.

Immigration came in last (aside from other, the choice of 3 percent) among those issues, at 10 percent. The economy/inflation came in first, at 42 percent, followed by protecting democracy with 18 percent, abortion/women’s rights (16 percent), and crime/safety issues, the pick of 11 percent of respondents.

That said, immigration was the second-leading issue for those who voted for the GOP, at 16 percent. Immigration ran well behind those voters’ primary issue, the economy/inflation (58 percent), but well ahead of even crime/safety issues (10 percent). Protecting democracy (7 percent) and abortion/women’s rights (6 percent) rounded out the list for those who pulled the Republican lever.

Democratic voters, on the other hand, put immigration dead last, at just 5 percent on their list of issues. If you think that the president and his fellow partisans don’t care about immigration and the border, it’s probably because it does not matter much to their voters.

That said, these responses also suggest that certain Republican candidates left votes on the table by failing to emphasize immigration and the border during their campaigns, as Speaker-presumptive Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested they should when he issued his “Commitment to America” in September.

Now that Republicans have been given control of the House in the next, 118th Congress, however, their voters will expect them to deliver, which is likely why McCarthy called on DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to resign or face an impeachment inquiry in late November.

The 2024 elections are 23 months away. That’s an eternity in politics, but serious candidates are ginning up their campaigns now and things will begin to heat up by the end of summer.

Joe Biden has presided over two fiscal years in which the Border Patrol set new apprehension records, and things are set to get a lot worse when Title 42 ends. That’s currently set to occur on December 21, subject to an appeal that could extend the date. Democrats may have dodged a “red wave” in the midterms, but voters remain concerned about immigration, and if the border remains in chaos or deteriorates further, their luck — and the president’s — may run out.