NBC, ABC/WaPo Polls Show Border Trouble for Biden

Every town is a border town, and there are likely lingering memories of pre-9/11 insecurity

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 30, 2021

Two new polls show okay numbers for President Biden, with one major exception: immigration and the border.

On April 25, NBC News released a survey of 1,000 adults — 79 percent of whom are registered voters — which was conducted between April 17 and April 20. The good for Biden:

  • 53 percent of those polled approve of the job that he is doing as president (29 percent strongly) vs. 39 percent of whom disapprove (33 percent strongly).
  • 69 percent approve of the president’s handling of Covid-19, while 27 percent disapprove.
  • 52 percent approve of Biden’s performance on the economy, while 43 percent disapprove.

The bad:

  • When it comes to “taxes and spending”, 44 percent approve, and 48 percent disapprove.
  • With respect to the president’s handling of China, 35 percent approve, as opposed to 44 percent who disapprove.
  • “The gun issue” registers 34 percent approval for Biden, and 55 percent disapproval.

Which brings me to the issue on which Biden received the lowest marks: “border security and immigration”. On that point, 33 percent approve of the president’s handling, while 59 percent disapprove.

This is particularly problematic for the president because “border security and immigration” actually came in fifth on the list of issues that those polled said were the most important to the country.

That may make it sound like the issue is well down the list, but it just barely missed the top three: 22 percent identified “border security and immigration” as the most important issue, and it only fell short of “the economy” and “race relations” as the most important issue by a single percentage point (they were each the most important to 23 percent of respondents).

The number-one issue facing the country was Covid-19 at 30 percent, but that is a transitory issue (the pandemic will be over, I hope sooner than later). “Uniting the country” was two, with 25 percent. Frankly, the fact that border security and immigration fell just three percentage points below that issue is a surprise, even to me.

Immigration and border security is plainly a salient issue for those communities at the border that deal with it on a daily basis, but it appears that, increasingly, Americans beyond the border are waking up to the fact that what occurs there affects them in a tangible way, too.

In other words, every town is a border town, even in our continental republic.

On April 25, ABC News/Washington Post released their own poll on Biden’s performance as he neared the 100-day mark in his presidency. That one polled 1,007 adults, 33 percent of whom are Democrats, 24 percent Republicans, and 35 percent of whom are independents.

Here’s the good news for the president:

  • 52 percent of respondents approve of his handling of his job as president (34 percent strongly), as opposed to 42 percent who disapprove (35 percent strongly).
  • 52 percent also approve of how Biden is handling the economy (33 percent strongly), vs. 41 percent of respondents who disapprove (again, 33 percent strongly).
  • Biden’s highest numbers are for his handling of the pandemic, with 64 percent approval (46 percent strongly), compared to 31 percent who disapprove (22 percent strongly).

The bad for Biden? His handling of the immigration situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, where he gets 37 percent approval (16 percent strongly), and a dismal 53 percent disapproval (42 percent strongly).

Remember — those were not all GOP stalwarts who took a dour view of Biden’s performance, because they only made up, at best, 24 percent of the poll.

In fact, PJ Media criticized both polls for over-sampling Democrats (by 9 percent in the ABC/Washington Post poll and 6 percent in the NBC one), so real disapproval of the president’s border performance is likely higher than either poll reveals.

That ABC/Washington Post poll also compares Biden’s popularity at this point in his presidency to his predecessors back to Truman in the same time frame.

Only Donald Trump (42 percent approval) and Gerald Ford (48 percent) had lower approval ratings than Biden. By comparison, Barack Obama had 69 percent approval at this point, George W. Bush clocked in at 63 percent, and 59 percent approved of Bill Clinton.

Ford took office in the wake of the Watergate scandal (and quite controversially pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon one month after he took the oath).

And Trump was, to put it gently, a lightning rod whom the vast majority of the media despised. One sympathetic description I heard was that Trump was like the doctor with no bedside manner who bluntly told you to lose weight and quit smoking, and then left the room.

If the best that Biden can say is that he is beating Ford and Trump almost 100 days in, he has a problem. Given his relatively high marks on Covid-19 and the economy, the only conclusion that you can draw is that the disaster at the border is pulling him down.

Biden appears to be buoyed to some degree by his Covid-19 response, but that won’t last forever, and once the pandemic is over, will likely soon be forgotten by those whose lives weren’t directly affected (with the afflicted, their loved ones, and the unemployed at the top of that list).

Why do I say that? September 11th was a life-changing generational event, where the country’s sense of security was ripped from it and Americans understood that there were people out there (some foreign, some domestic) who wanted to kill them. Looking at our diplomatic and security policies (including at the border) almost 20 years later, it is almost as if September 11th never happened.

Want proof? Click on the last link, and it will take you to a report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee captioned “Al Qaeda in Yemen and Syria: A Ticking Time Bomb”, dated January 21, 2010.

The forward to that report is signed by the committee’s chairman at the time, then-Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). Kerry is now Biden’s climate czar, and on April 23, he stated: “In my judgment, climate change is the biggest non-state-actor threat there is.” September 11th was then; April 23, 2021, is last week.

All of that said, there is likely a lingering sense of concern and wariness among those who lived through those terrorist attacks and their aftermath, which might partially explain why Biden’s border performance is weighing him down.

In that vein, my colleague Todd Bensman reports regularly on security risks at the border, and those articles attract a lot of interest. Many don’t take today’s terrorist risk at the border seriously, though.

On March 15, for example, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) “issued dire warnings that suspected terrorists are trying to cross into the United States via Mexico” (as summarized by the Washington Post). That Post article contended that McCarthy’s “claims withered under scrutiny”, but I seriously doubt the leader made them up.

I handled terrorist cases for the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) at the turn of the millennium, and was often pilloried and dismissed in much the same way that McCarthy was by the Post (including by some of my bosses). Concerned that the INS was not doing enough to counter the terrorist threat, I left on July 20, 2001, to go work for Congress to see if I could do something there.

Fifty-three days later, I was not exactly treated like the smartest guy in the room, but my opinions received a lot more credence and attention. I truly hope that Bensman’s warnings about border insecurity are taken seriously before any terrorist threat comes to fruition, but unfortunately this is a movie I have seen before.

In any event, Biden’s polling numbers almost 100 days in are better than his immediate predecessor’s, but worse than most who came before. He gets high points for his Covid-19 response, but his numbers are pulled down by his handling of the crisis at the border. Covid-19 will pass; the disaster at the border is likely here to stay, unless the president makes a course — and policy — correction.