Immigration, Border Are Key Issues in Swing-State Polling

. . . while voters overwhelmingly believe illegal immigration ‘hurts’ the U.S. economy

By Andrew R. Arthur on February 1, 2024

News outlet Bloomberg and opinion outfit Morning Consult have just released the results of a series of polls they conducted between January 16 and 24 in seven so-called “swing” states that are likely to decide the 2024 presidential election: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Individually and collectively, the polls reveal that “immigration” and the border are shaping up to be key — if not deciding — issues that could determine the presidential election in each. Those polls also show that voters overwhelming believe that illegal immigration “hurts” their biggest issue — the U.S. economy.

Morning Consult surveyed a total of 4,956 registered voters across the seven states, and the poll overall has a margin of error of +/- 1 percent — so you can probably take it to the bank.

"How Important Is Immigration When Deciding How to Vote for President?" Respondents were asked “how important” various issues would be in determining how they’d cast their votes for president in the 2024 election. The topics ran the gamut from the economy, housing, and crime to abortion, guns, and the “Russia-Ukraine war”.

One of the topics was “immigration”, which 57 percent of voters identified as a “very important” issue and an additional 27 percent said was a “somewhat important” one — meaning that immigration is important to 84 percent of the voters combined in those states.

Independents were 10 points more likely than Democrats to identify immigration as a very important issue (54 percent to 44 percent), but also 18 points less likely than Republicans (72 percent) to view it as such. Only 12 percent of voters overall said that immigration was “not too important” (9 percent) or “not important at all” (3 percent) in making their presidential choice.

"What Is the Single Most Important Issue When Deciding How to Vote?" Morning Consult then asked a slightly different question: “What is the single most important issue to you when deciding how to vote in the November 2024 election for U.S. president?” That’s when things got interesting.

Not surprisingly, “the economy” took first place on that one, the choice of 36 percent of respondents. Keep that in mind as I discuss the other takeaways below.

Second place? It went to “immigration”, the biggest issue for 13 percent of those polled. “Democracy”, a protean issue if ever there was one, came in third at 11 percent.

Broken down by partisanship, the immigration responses were all over the map. Just 3 percent of Democrats said that immigration would drive their presidential votes in the 2024 election, while four times as many Independents (12 percent) said the same.

And then, there were Republicans, nearly a quarter of whom (24 percent) identified immigration as their biggest issue in the 2024 presidential election.

Immigration will plainly be a major driver in the next election, but it’s more important in some of those swing states than it is in others. In Arizona, a border state, 20 percent of voters identified it as their single most important issue, trailing the economy (28 percent) by just eight points.

In Georgia, on the other hand, just 10 percent of voters (but 18 percent of Republicans) identified immigration as their single most important issue, third after the economy (42 percent) and democracy (12 percent).

The Peach Tree state was a bit of an outlier, though. In Michigan and Pennsylvania, 12 percent of voters identified immigration as their most important issue (including 22 percent of GOP voters in America’s mitten and 21 percent in the Keystone State); In Nevada, 15 percent of respondents and a quarter of Republicans said it would be their main issue.

Then, there’s North Carolina, my current home. Some 16 percent of Tar Heel voters said immigration would be their single most important issue when casting their presidential vote, the only issue aside from the economy (34 percent) that polled in the double digits. Remarkably, 30 percent of GOP voters in North Carolina identified immigration as their top issue.

Those results are as interesting as they are varied. Philadelphia and Detroit aren’t dealing with the border migrant issues that New York City and Chicago are (and of course there’s a lot more to Pennsylvania and Michigan than those two cities), and yet voters there still have serious concerns.

Nevada has a large immigrant population (18.4 percent of the residents were foreign-born in 2021, according to the Migration Policy Institute), but at the same time the issue registers strongly there.

Other than Atlanta, Georgia and North Carolina are pretty similar in terms of industry, commerce, and population (10 percent of Georgians were foreign-born in 2021, as were 8.2 percent of North Carolinians). Of course, Georgia has two Democratic senators and North Carolina two Republican ones, but Georgia also has a Republican governor while North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is a Democrat.

All of that said, Arizona aside, none of these are “border” states and yet immigration plainly is making an impact on each that has voters anxious. Just not Democratic voters.

"Who Do You Trust More to Handle Immigration — Trump or Biden?" Morning Consult also asked respondents who they trusted more to handle immigration — President Biden or GOP frontrunner Donald Trump. Each of them should take heed of the results.

In response, 52 percent of registered voters in those seven swing states said it was Trump, compared to 30 percent who chose Biden, and 18 percent who trusted neither of them.

It’s likely not a shock to hear that 89 percent of registered Republicans favored Trump’s handling of immigration, but it may be to find out that just 62 percent of Biden’s fellow Democrats felt the same way about their party’s presumptive candidate (16 percent of whom preferred Trump on this issue).

Of course, the real action is with the Independents, who favored Trump by a 49 percent to 22 percent margin over Biden. Those are not good numbers for the incumbent when it comes to voters’ second-biggest issue.

One major surprise is that more than half of Hispanics (52 percent) prefer Trump to handle immigration over Biden (29 percent). If Biden’s advisors are trying to appeal to that demographic, they’re failing badly.

Democratic voters aside, there are only two major demographics in which Biden has the edge over Trump when it comes to immigration: Black voters, who prefer the current president’s handling of immigration over the last one’s by a 28 percent to 49 percent margin; and Atheists, an overwhelming number of whom (56 percent) favor Biden compared to just 27 percent who prefer Trump.

That Trump edge over Biden on immigration held in each of the swing states. Arizona: 51 percent Trump, 31 percent Biden; Georgia: 52 percent Trump, 31 percent Biden; Michigan: 49 percent Trump, 30 percent Biden; Nevada: 52 percent Trump, 29 percent Biden; North Carolina: 53 percent Trump, 29 percent Biden; Pennsylvania: 53 percent Trump, 33 percent Biden; and Wisconsin: 52 percent Trump, 30 percent Biden — although just 4 percent of Cheesehead Atheists prefer Trump’s handling of immigration compared to 72 percent for Biden.

This provides a huge advantage for Trump in those swing states and is likely a major reason why — according to Bloomberg and Morning Consult — he’s leading Biden in all of them.

His biggest edge — 10 points — is in North Carolina, where he’s the choice of 49 percent of registered voters (compared to 39 percent for Biden). Again, border-state Arizona aside, North Carolina is the swing state in which the largest percentage of voters identified immigration as their biggest issue. Correlation may not imply causation, but that’s a mighty big coincidence otherwise.

"Does Illegal Immigration Help or Hurt the U.S. Economy?" Plainly, immigration is a big deal for swing-state voters, but am I making too big a deal of it, given those voters’ concerns about the economy? Probably not.

The reason that I say that is because Morning Consult also asked those voters: “To what extent, if at all, do you believe illegal immigration helps or hurts the U.S. economy?” The results were telling.

Just a quarter — 25 percent — of respondents asserted that illegal immigration either “significantly helps” (7 percent) or “somewhat helps” (18 percent) our nation’s economy.

By contrast, 23 percent said that illegal immigration “somewhat hurts” the U.S. economy, and 41 percent of respondents believe that illegal immigration “significantly hurts” our economic wellbeing — a 64 percent negative sentiment overall.

Even registered Democrats were more likely to say that illegal immigration hurts (43 percent) rather than helps (42 percent) the U.S. economy. And the significantly-hurts crowd had a five-point edge over the significantly-helps contingent (17 percent to 12 percent) among the president’s fellow Democrats.

The Center has long argued that unfettered immigration adversely impacts other issues of concern to the American people. This poll supports that position and reveals that illegal immigration is having serious deleterious impacts on the issue that all Americans are most concerned about.

Implicit in the administration’s border policies is a belief that the U.S. economy needs illegal migrant workers to fill jobs and to keep inflation in check. I’ll note that my colleague Steven Camarota recently debunked that latter canard, but in any event American voters aren’t buying any of it.

Why is President Biden calling an unseen Senate border compromise bill (that probably doesn’t exist) “the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we’ve ever had in our country”? Because he’s desperate to distract key voters away from the failures of his feckless border policies.

The better way for the president to reverse this dire political narrative is to use the powers he already has to secure the border, but that would mean alienating his base in those seven swing states who — unlike their fellow voters — like his immigration policies. But on election day, they may be the only ones he has left.