Poll: Immigration a Leading Issue Heading into Midterms

Support surprisingly strong among Republican voters

By Andrew R. Arthur on July 10, 2018

On July 5, 2018, Reuters reported the results of a Reuters/Ipsos poll showing that immigration was the top issue for U.S. voters heading into the November 2018 midterm elections, edging out the economy on the list of Americans' concerns. While this is not surprising given the media attention paid to the issue of immigration the last few weeks, the poll reveals some interesting facts.

In my last post, I wrote about the "Abolish ICE" movement among certain Democrats who are railing against the president's policies, and immigration enforcement in the United States itself. The heated rhetoric surrounding various administration policies, and in particular the so-called "separation of families" at the border would suggest that this is a significant issue for voters on the liberal end of the spectrum.

That poll bears this out, but not to the degree one would expect. While Reuters reported that 15 percent of registered voters indicated that "immigration was the top issue determining how they will cast their ballot in November," the issue did not break down evenly along party lines.

Instead, while 26 percent of registered Republicans "cited immigration as the most important issue likely to determine their vote," only 7 percent of Democrats identified immigration as their main concern. In fact, immigration was number three on the list for Democrats, behind healthcare (16 percent) and the economy (14 percent).

Moreover, immigration appears to be gaining momentum as an issue among Republicans heading into the midterm elections. As Reuters' polling indicated, the number of Republicans identifying immigration as their top issue is up 12 percentage points, from 14 percent in early June polling. Moreover, 81 percent of registered Republicans approved of President Trump's handling of immigration, suggesting that the increase in Republicans who have identified immigration as their top concern is likely primarily among those (like the president) who want to see more immigration enforcement, not less.

Given the battering that the president has taken in the press on the issue in recent weeks, this is significant, but in some ways not that surprising. In September 2017, the website FiveThirtyEight reported that "Trump's Hardline Immigration Stance Got Him to the White House." Among its conclusions was the fact that "immigration tends to be an issue that is more important to Republicans than Democrats."

It continued:

The 2016 national exit poll found that Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 31 percentage points among voters who said immigration was the most important issue facing the country. The 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study found that 73 percent of Trump voters said immigration was of "very high importance" to them, compared with 24 percent of Clinton voters. And despite Trump's rhetoric on immigration and Latinos during the 2016 campaign, he probably did no worse among them than Mitt Romney did in 2012. (And he may have done slightly better.)

I have long been of the opinion that the way that voters view the president's immigration policies are largely driven by the way that those voters view President Trump himself. And, with certain notable exceptions, President Trump's immigration policies have reflected candidate Trump's immigration pledges.

Certain of the president's immigration policies have provided an opportunity for his opponents to take to the streets. For example, the president's first "travel ban" executive order led to days of protests across the nation, as CNN reported at the time. Similarly, on June 30, 2018, NBC News reported that: "Hundreds of marches took place across the United States ... as thousands of people demanded the Trump administration reunite families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border."

Voters rarely rally, however, in support of the implementation of policies that they like. This (coupled with opportunities for the president's most vocal opponents to express their dissatisfaction with him through protest) may be one reason for the disconnect between the popular impression of the support for the president's immigration policies and the polling results.

Again, this is just one poll four months out from the midterm elections. It suggests, however, that immigration is an issue that is more likely to stimulate the Republican base than the Democratic base. This poll also provides support for those within the Republican Party who have supported the president's push for enforcement of the immigration laws, and possibly a rebuke to those Republican members of Congress who have argued for amnesty in the recent past.