New York Times/Siena Poll Reveals Partisan Split Over Immigration

Dems love Biden’s policies — GOP voters and Independents, not so much

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 19, 2024

On April 13, the New York Times and Siena college released the results of their latest poll, which was conducted between April 7 and 11 and surveyed 1,059 registered voters. It reveals a huge split between Democrats on the one hand and Republicans and Independents on the other with respect to President Biden’s border policies — and over Donald Trump’s for what that’s worth.

At the outset, I’ll note that this was a Democrat-heavy poll: 315 of the respondents self-identified with the Party of Jackson compared to 274 others who claimed to be Republicans and 365 Independents. By comparison, in Gallup’s most recent survey of party affiliation (conducted in March), 30 percent of respondents identified as Republicans, 28 percent as Democrats, and 41 percent as Independents.

“What One Thing Do You Remember Most About Donald Trump’s Presidency?” Respondents in the NYT/Siena poll were asked: “Thinking back to when Donald Trump was president, what one thing do you remember most about Donald Trump’s presidency?”

You likely won’t be shocked to learn that a plurality, 39 percent, of likely voters said it was either the 45th president’s “behavior”, “leadership”, or “personal characteristics”, including 55 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of Republicans.

In second place were Trump’s “economic policies” and “stimulus”, at 23 percent. Just 6 percent of Democrats put that at the top of their lists, compared to 35 percent of Republicans (it was the most common GOP response) and 28 percent of Independents. As you can tell, this response triggered a pretty strong partisan skew.

The third most common response was “immigration”, the choice of 10 percent of likely voters, including 7 percent of Democrats, 17 percent of Republicans, and 8 percent of Independents.

Interestingly, voters in the Northeast were most likely to identify immigration in response to this question (12 percent) than those in the South (10 percent), West (9 percent), or Midwest (also 9 percent). White and Hispanic voters, at 11 percent, were equally likely to say that they remembered immigration under Trump — but as you’ll see, their impressions were not quite the same.

Approve or Disapprove of Trump’s Handling of Immigration. To understand the divide between the two parties on immigration, consider the results of the next, related question: “Tell me whether you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump handled” immigration as president.

In response, half (50 percent) of respondents either “strongly” approved (36 percent) or “somewhat” approved (14 percent) of Trump’s handling of immigration. That said, 47 percent either strongly disapproved (35 percent) or somewhat disapproved (12 percent) of how Trump handled the issue.

Which brings me to the internals. Just 13 percent of Democratic voters either strongly (5 percent) or somewhat (8 percent) approved of Trump’s handling of immigration, whereas 90 percent of Republicans approved, either strongly (69 percent) or somewhat (21 percent).

On this question, Independents fell somewhere in between, with again half (50 percent) approving and 47 percent disapproving.

When it comes to regions, those in the Midwest had the fondest memories of Trump’s handling of immigration (44 percent of them strongly approved), while those in the West had the worst (46 percent strongly disapproved) followed closely by voters in the Northeast (45 percent strongly disapproved).

All of that said, the highest levels of disapproval of Trump’s handling of immigration were expressed by Hispanics and college-educated non-whites: 59 percent of each stated that they strongly disapproved of Trump’s performance on this issue.

Biden Approval and Disapproval on Immigration. The pollsters also asked respondents their impressions of President Biden’s handling of immigration, and the results were about what you would expect.

Less than a third, 32 percent, of likely voters either strongly approved (9 percent) or somewhat approved (23 percent) of the manner in which Biden is addressing immigration. By contrast, 64 percent of those expected to show up for the general election in November either strongly (49 percent) or somewhat (15 percent) disapproved of Biden’s performance on this issue.

The partisan skew on this was remarkable. First, 62 percent of Democrats either strongly (20 percent) or somewhat (42 percent) approved of Biden’s handling of immigration.

By contrast, fewer than 1 percent of GOP voters and just 7 percent of Independents strongly approved of Biden’s handling of immigration, and a mere 9 percent of Republicans and 21 percent of Independents somewhat approved.

Biden’s net approval on immigration: 62 percent of Democrats, 10 percent of Republicans, and 28 percent of Independents. Biden’s net disapproval: 33 percent of Democrats, 95 percent of Republicans, and 68 percent of Independents.

And there’s no region that Biden can go to looking for support for his immigration policies: Northeast, 59 percent disapprove and 35 percent approve (24 percent net disapproval); West, 61 percent disapprove and 38 percent approve (23 percent net disapproval); South, 65 percent disapprove and 29 percent approve (36 percent net disapproval); Midwest, 69 percent disapprove and 30 percent approve (39 percent net disapproval).

And while Hispanic voters didn’t like Trump’s policies, they aren’t fans of Biden’s either. Some 60 percent of this cohort disapproved of Biden’s handling of immigration compared to 40 percent who approved.

Biden v. Trump Match-Up. While it does not directly involve immigration, one other question in that poll bears comment: “If the 2024 presidential election were held today, who would you vote for if the candidates were Joe Biden the Democrat or Donald Trump the Republican?”

Trump holds a razor-thin one percentage-point advantage in that poll over Biden among likely voters, 47 percent to 46 percent, with 91 percent of GOP voters choosing their party’s candidate and 90 percent of Democrats opting for the incumbent. In case you are curious, Independents split 47 percent to 44 percent for Trump.

Biden is 12 points down among white voters, 41 percent to 53 percent, but he holds a commanding 60-point lead (76 percent to 16 percent) among Blacks.

And then, there are Hispanic voters, a traditional Democratic base, but one in which Biden holds just a 13-point advantage over Trump, with a split of 52 percent for the incumbent to 39 percent for the challenger.

The high-water mark for a GOP presidential candidate among Hispanic voters was the 40 percent support then-President George W. Bush received in his 2004 reelection campaign. By comparison, and although 2020 numbers are hard to come by, Michigan State University estimates that Trump received about 27 percent of Hispanics’ votes in the last general election while 70 percent voted for Biden.

That was an increase for the Democratic candidate compared to 2016, when 66 percent of Hispanic voters chose Hillary Clinton, and a slight decline for Trump, who received the support of 28 percent of this cohort during his first foray.

If these latest numbers hold, Trump likely has the parlous state of the economy to thank for the boost, not immigration.

According to the NYT/Siena poll, 78 percent of Hispanic voters either strongly (45 percent) or somewhat (33 percent) approved of Trump’s handling of the economy. Meanwhile, 76 percent of the voters in this demographic in that poll disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy, with 53 percent strongly and 23 percent somewhat disapproving.

Key Takeaway. Why does President Biden maintain immigration policies that seem unpopular with voters? Because those policies play well to his Democratic base. Conversely, if Trump wants his base to show up at the polls, he should highlight the distinctions between his border performance and the incumbent’s — with due consideration to how his policies play in the increasingly key Hispanic voting bloc.