Latest Poll Shows Strong Disapproval for Biden’s Border Policies

And concern, but also a lack of awareness, about our ability to handle the current massive wave of illegal migrants

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 23, 2023

On May 21, CBS News released the results of its most recent poll on the president’s performance, particularly as it relates to the ongoing disaster at the Southwest border, and on other border issues. It reveals a lack of support for Biden’s border policies, though nobody — the White House, congressional Republicans, or border-state governors — really comes out a winner. That said, it also evidences a lack of knowledge about how our current levels of massive illegal immigration will affect cities and towns across the United States.

The poll was conducted for CBS News by opinion outfit YouGov and involved 2,188 U.S. adults sampled between May 17 and 19 — that is, in the week after Title 42 expired. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

President Biden’s Approval Rating. The president received low marks for his overall performance, with just 41 percent of respondents approving of the job that he is doing compared to 59 percent who disapproved.

That may be why just 28 percent of those polled believe things are going well in the country (and a mere 5 percent stated they were going “very well”) compared to a dismal 72 percent who said they were going badly (a depressing 34 percent opined that things are going “very badly”).

Biden receives his worst marks when it comes to immigration — just 36 percent approved of the president’s handling of the issue compared to 64 percent who disapproved.

The Southwest Border. Curiously, the president did slightly better when respondents were asked what they thought of his handling of “matters concerning the U.S.-Mexico border” — tallying 37 percent approval versus 63 percent disapproval.

That said, congressional Republicans received the exact same marks on this issue: 37 percent approval versus 63 percent disapproval.

Many “inside the beltway” assume the average American assigns credit or blame to the individual branches of government and the respective parties regardless of the issue, but really the average voter expects his or her government writ large to make things work. When it comes to the border, few Americans like how things are going, so a pox on all houses until the situation there improves.

And they are increasingly focused on what’s going on there. The poll reveals that more than a quarter — 26 percent — of respondents are paying “a lot” of attention to the goings-on at the U.S.-Mexico line, while an additional 42 percent are paying “some” attention — 68 percent in total.

In contrast, a solid quarter — 25 percent — aren’t paying much attention to the situation at the Southwest border, and 9 percent aren’t paying any. In other words, more than a third of Americans have very little interest in what is happening on our nation’s southern flank.

U.S. Immigration Policy, Generally. CBS News/YouGov also asked the most important question on this subject in a long time — at least from my perspective: “If you could choose, what do you think U.S. immigration policy should generally be?” The bell-curve-shaped results were enlightening, to say the least.

At one end of the curve were the 20 percent of respondents who want to “stop most or all immigration”. Conversely, 17 percent fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, and want to “allow a lot of immigration, including most or all people who want to enter”.

Policy experts and opinion leaders should pay heed to the solid majority — 62 percent — in the middle. They want to “allow some immigration, based on strict criteria”. Of course, how many admissions annually constitutes “some immigration”, and what constitutes “strict criteria”, are subjective terms open to debate.

It would have been easy for pollsters to follow up on those two points, but they failed to do so. As a December Harvard-Harris poll revealed, however, the vast majority of registered voters underestimated the number of migrants who have crossed the Southwest border illegally by wide margins.

More than half the respondents to that poll — 55 percent — thought the total number of illegal entrants was 500,000 or fewer annually, and three-quarters — 75 percent — thought it was one million or less.

The real figure? More than 2.2 million illegal entrants were apprehended at the Southwest border after entering illegally in FY 2022, not counting 599,000 others known to have entered illegally but who evaded apprehension (“got-aways”). Just 9 percent of respondents in that December poll came anywhere close to the actual total.

Of course, that may be why CBS News/YouGov didn’t ask those two critical follow-up questions — they probably wouldn’t have liked the results.

Some elucidation on these points may be found in a separate question in that poll. Respondents were asked whether the Biden administration should generally be: (A) “tougher on immigrants trying to cross at the border”; (B) “easier on immigrants trying to cross at the border”; or conversely (C) is “handling things about as they should be” currently.

In response, 58 percent wanted Biden to be tougher on those migrants, compared to one-fifth, 20 percent who want the president to ease off, and 22 percent who think Biden has struck the correct balance. Plainly, respondents think the current rate of illegal entries is unacceptable, and that the criteria on which the administration is allowing illegal entrants into the country aren’t “strict” enough.

In that vein, consider the following question that CBS News/YouGov posed:

If you could choose, which of these is closest to what you would like to see happen with the U.S.-Mexico border? Should the border be a place where: [A] no one can cross into the U.S.; [B] only people who meet an [sic] approved U.S. criteria can cross; [or C] anyone can cross into the U.S.

The results: No one can cross, 11 percent; only people who meet an approved U.S. criterion can cross, 79 percent; and anyone can cross, 9 percent.

Given the fact that under U.S. law, no one without a valid visa or entry document may be admitted across the land borders into the United States, I would have to agree with the majority on that one — raising the question of whether most Americans have any idea what is transpiring at the Southwest border.

A Crisis, a Very Serious Problem, or Something Else? CBS News/YouGov also asked a semantics question: “Do you think the current situation with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border is” (A) “a crisis”; (B) “a very serious problem but not a crisis”; (C) “a somewhat serious problem”; or (D) “not much of a problem.”

Some 38 percent of respondents deemed the situation at the Southwest border a crisis, while 33 percent said it just a very serious problem, 22 percent stated it was a somewhat serious problem, and 7 percent thought it was not much of a problem.

One way or another, those results suggest that the vast majority of Americans aren’t pleased about what is going on at the U.S.-Mexico line, regardless of the words used to describe it.

Busing Migrants North. Respondents gave contradictory answers when asked about the busing of migrants at the border north into the interior, which the state of Texas (and the Biden administration for what it’s worth) have been doing for more than a year.

Half of respondents — 50 percent — approved of “southern and border states sending migrants, via buses and planes, to northern cities and states in the U.S.”, while the other 50 percent disapproved.

Each cohort of respondents was given a variety of responses to choose from to explain their respective positions.

Among those who approved, 38 percent liked such busing schemes because they made a political statement, 52 percent because those northern cities and states have more space and resources, 58 percent because it gets other cities and states involved in the issue, 30 percent because it is better for the migrants, and — curiously — 9 percent because it is stressful for the migrants.

I will take that last response as meaning that respondents prefer busing migrants away from the border because it discourages others who would make the trip, but it’s strange that CBS News/YouGov offered that as an option.

Among the half who disapproved of states sending migrants into the interior, more than half — 56 percent — complained it was a political statement, 40 percent didn’t believe that the receiving states had the space or resources, 39 percent thought it was stressful for the migrants, 28 percent thought it was an issue for border states to deal with, and 27 percent opined that it was better for migrants to stay near the border.

Anyone with any knowledge of migrant smuggling would understand that the trip into the interior from the border is nowhere near as stressful as the initial trip to the United States. Nor is it entirely clear why anyone would believe that border states are better situated or a more optimal choice to place illegal entrants than any other state.

NIMBYism on Display. All of which leads to the next set of questions, having to do with capacity of the areas in which respondents live to handle massive influxes of border migrants.

The first responses displayed a level of altruism, as 52 percent of those polled favoring “a plan to try to find temporary housing and social services for migrants in the city or town” where they themselves lived, compared to 48 percent who opposed such a plan.

Then, the NIMBYism (“not in my backyard”) kicked in, with 63 percent of respondents stating that their cities or towns lacked the “local hotels or public housing facilities that have space and availability to house migrants temporarily, if needed”, compared to 37 percent who believed such space was available in their areas.

Thereafter, those polled were asked to describe, “in terms of population”, the areas in which they lived. More than half, 53 percent, responded that their localities had “about the right amount of people”, while 30 percent described their localities as “too crowded, with more people than [they] can handle”.

Just 16 percent stated that their cities or towns didn’t “have enough people and need[] more to promote growth”.

Key Takeaways. There’s a lot that could be stated about these responses, but suffice it to say that many, if not the majority, of Americans don’t know much about what’s happening at the Southwest border, even if they are concerned about it.

By my best estimates, DHS has released nearly 2.1 million illegal migrants or inadmissible aliens encountered by CBP at the Southwest border into the United States under the Biden administration, with Border Patrol agents cutting loose nearly 61,000 in April alone.

Because the Biden administration refuses to disclose the number of inadmissible aliens encountered by CBP officers at the Southwest border ports of entry and released, or the number of migrants transferred from the border to ICE and released by that agency into the United States, the total number of releases is impossible to determine based on publicly available information, but it is likely close to three million.

In addition, as noted, there were 599,000 known got-aways in FY 2022, on top of 389,155 others in FY 2021 and 530,000 more in the first seven months of FY 2023 — more than 1.5 million all told. In other words, there are anywhere between 3.6 million and 4.6 million aliens who entered the country illegally and are now living here, all thanks to the president’s border policies.

Even on the low end, that’s more people than there are residents in 20 U.S. states; on the upper end, it jumps into the top half of states by population.

Americans, as they should, want illegal migrants treated with compassion and respect, but as the most recent CBS News/YouGov poll reveals, we are also concerned about the effects accommodating them will have on our own local resources and communities. In other words, we’d like to care for those migrants but think they’d be better cared for someplace else.