Poll: Congressional Republicans Pull Even with Democrats in Handling immigration

For those who don’t approve of Biden’s performance, immigration is likely a big reason why

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 18, 2021

In an April 15 post, I analyzed a Morning Consult/Politico poll from last month showing eroding support for congressional Democrats in handling immigration. The most recent iteration of that poll shows the GOP pulling even with Democrats on the issue — likely a response to the Biden administration’s performance in addressing the border crisis.

The most recent poll was conducted between April 30 and May 3, and surveyed 1,991 registered voters. It has a margin of error of +/- two percentage points.

On the question “Who do you trust more to handle each of the following issues?”, 40 percent said Democrats in Congress, while another 40 percent said that they trusted congressional Republicans (19 percent either did not know or had no opinion).

While that might not sound like a ringing endorsement of the GOP’s position, that earlier poll (conducted April 2 to 4, with 1,989 respondents) showed congressional Democrats favored by four points — 42 to 38 (with a similar 19 percent who did not know or had no opinion).

Republicans did the best on this issue with male respondents, who favored the GOP conference by 44 percent to 39 percent. Among female respondents, the Democratic caucus was favored, but by a lower percentage difference: 41 percent to 38 percent for Republicans.

The best news for the Party of Lincoln came among crucial swing Independent voters, who favored Republicans’ handling of immigration by a margin of 39 percent to 29 percent for the Democrats. That said, almost one-third (32 percent) of Independents either didn’t know or had no opinion on the question.

GOP support with Independents stacked up the highest among men, who favored congressional Republicans by a 43 percent to 25 percentage margin. The Democratic caucus did slightly better among Independent women, but those voters still favored the GOP by a 35 percent to 32 percent margin.

Older voters in particular preferred Republican congressional handling of immigration. The GOP received strong support from Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), by a 48 percent to 33 percent margin, and from Generation X’ers (born 1965 to 1980), who favored congressional Republicans by a 49 percent to 33 percent margin over Democrats.

That said, Millennials (born 1981 to 1996) trusted the Democratic caucus more by a 48 percent to 31 percent margin, and the handful of Generation Z’ers (born 1997 to 2012) who were old enough to register to vote favored Democrats by a whopping 57 percent to 18 percent margin for the GOP.

So, if you remember the Reagan administration, you are more likely to be pulling for congressional Republicans to handle immigration.

Those older voters are more likely to show up for mid-term elections (64 percent of those aged 65 and older voted in 2018, as opposed to 30 percent of those aged 24 and younger), so if the president does not reverse his current trajectory on immigration, he may be dealing with a hostile Congress in January 2023.

Why do I tie the president’s handling of the border crisis to support? The poll does not get down to that granular a level, but the more likely respondents were to approve of Biden’s performance overall, the more likely that they were to favor congressional Democrats’ handling of immigration.

Those who strongly approved of Biden’s overall performance favored congressional Democrats to handle immigration, by a 76 percent to 10 percent split.

On the other hand, there was broad support for Republicans in Congress in handling immigration among those who strongly disapproved of the job that the president is doing, by a margin of 87 percent for the GOP to 2 percent — within the margin of error — for the Democratic caucus.

These trends are not quite as strong among those who somewhat approve of the job that Biden is doing vs. those who somewhat disapprove, but the lines are still there.

Those who somewhat approve of Biden’s performance prefer Democratic congressional handling of immigration by a 53 to 21 percent margin, while those who somewhat disapprove of the job the president is doing are on the side of Republicans in Congress, by a still significant 66 percent to 9 percent margin.

In other words, if you don’t like the job that President Joe Biden is doing, immigration is largely a big reason why.

Interestingly, those who say that “the Economy” is the number one issue favor the Republican conference to handle immigration, by a 44 percent to 35 percent margin. That suggests that the linkages between unlimited immigration and diminished economic performance are strong in the collective mind of the electorate.

Similarly, for those who say that “Security” is the number one issue favor congressional Republican handling of immigration by a huge margin: 77 percent to 13 percent.

I have previously suggested that there are lingering memories of pre-9/11 insecurity among some portion of the American people. It is difficult to consider the fact that more than 40,000 alien “got-aways” evaded Border Patrol apprehension in April without concluding that one or more of them could do something very bad in the homeland.

Finally, their handling of immigration is one of the bright spots for Republicans in Congress. Overall, 36 percent of respondents had a favorable impression of the GOP conference, while 55 percent had an unfavorable impression. By comparison, the Democratic caucus clocked in with a plurality of favorable impressions — 46 percent as opposed to 44 percent of respondents who had an unfavorable view of congressional Democrats.

If anything, their handling of immigration is bolstering congressional Republicans, who are likely to use that subject generally, and Biden’s dismal performance at the border in particular, as wedge issues in the midterms.

The White House and congressional Democrats still have time to turn impressions of their handling of immigration around, but they better act quickly: The midterm elections are 18 months away, but those campaigns will start to ramp up in January.