On October 17, Issues and Insights (I&I) published a poll that focused on immigration and the border. Some of the responses — particularly about a preference for Republican handling of those issues — were not that surprising. One, however, revealed that a solid majority of Americans support a “wall” at the Southwest border. Those responses aptly reflect voters’ frustrations with the Biden administration’s feckless border policies.
The Poll. I&I conducted that poll in conjunction with public research outlet TechnoMetrica Institute of Policy and Politics (TIPP). For those who are not familiar with the latter, TIPP is a well-respected polling group, and its polls with Investor’s Business Daily have received an A+ rating from FiveThirtyEight.
The poll was conducted online between October 5 and 7, and respondents were 1,376 U.S. adults. It has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent.
Securing the Border. When asked which of the two major U.S. political parties would do a better job of securing the border, 43 percent chose the GOP, while 34 percent picked Democrats. Notably, however, 23 percent were not sure.
There was a strong partisan bias among respondents in that poll (as you might expect), but there were still some surprising takeaways. Among Republicans, 91 percent trusted their own, while 6 percent were not sure and just 3 percent thought that Democrats were better able to handle the issue.
Among the Democrats who were polled, 74 percent trusted their own party to secure the border, while 9 percent thought Republicans were better equipped for the job. Somewhat surprisingly, 17 percent of Democratic respondents weren’t sure, simply reinforcing the idea that the border does not weigh heavily on the minds of those on the left when choosing sides.
The responses of Independents were a bit surprising, but still tilted toward the GOP. Some 38 percent of the non-aligned trusted Republicans to secure the border, while just 16 percent chose the Democrats. “Not sure” carried the day, however, as the choice of 46 percent of Independents, but still as noted their responses evidenced greater trust in Republicans when it comes to border security.
There was also a somewhat surprising breakdown by race. Half — 50 percent — of whites have more faith in Republicans to secure the border, while just 28 percent preferred Democratic handling of the issue. Among whites, 21 percent were not sure which would do a better job.
Hispanic respondents were more evenly split, but still they gave the GOP a slight edge — 38 percent compared to 36 percent who trusted Democrats to secure the border. Among this demographic, 26 percent weren’t sure.
This somewhat roughly confirms an analysis by William A. Galston — the Wall Street Journal’s resident liberal op-ed columnist — who offered his take on Democrats’ reliance on Hispanic votes in that paper on October 18:
Although Democrats believe that Republicans’ stance on immigration — especially at the southern border — should reduce their appeal among Hispanics, polls suggest otherwise. A recent survey of Texas voters found that 53% of Hispanics thought Gov. Abbott would do a better job handling the situation at the border, compared with 44% for Mr. O’Rourke. Forty-eight percent of Hispanics supported shipping migrants who cross the border illegally to Democrat-dominated states and cities, one of Mr. Abbott’s signature programs.
Interestingly, blacks much preferred Democrats on this issue, by an overwhelming margin of 58 percent to 20 percent for the GOP. They were more likely to not be sure about which party would do a better job (22 percent) than to prefer Republicans.
Building a “Wall”. The I&I/TIPP poll also asked respondents whether they supported or opposed building a wall along the Southwest border, and that one was full of surprises.
More than half — 57 percent — supported barrier construction (39 percent “strongly”) compared to 33 percent who opposed it (20 percent strongly). Thirteen percent were not sure.
An overwhelming proportion of Republicans — 85 percent — supported barrier construction (68 percent strongly), compared to just 11 percent who opposed it. Democrats were more evenly split, with 45 percent in favor of the idea (27 percent strongly), while 48 percent were in opposition to such a plan (34 percent strongly).
Independents weren’t quite as convinced as Republicans that barrier construction is a good idea but were a lot more bullish than Democrats. A strong plurality of the uncommitted, though, still preferred walls — 47 percent in support (28 percent strongly), compared to 37 percent who were opposed (20 percent strongly). Some 16 percent of Independents weren’t sure.
Understanding Americans’ Concerns. The results of the I&I/TIPP poll come less than four years after Gallup trumpeted “Solid Majority Still Opposes New Construction on Border Wall”, reporting in February 2019 that 60 percent of respondents to its then-most recent poll objected to additional wall construction.
Of course, a lot has changed in the interim, as Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border are on track to apprehend more than 2.1 million illegal entrants in FY 2022, compared to fewer than 852,000 apprehensions there in FY 2019.
That’s not all that has changed, of course. Control of the White House has changed, too.
Trump’s border policies — after a number of fits and starts — produced what Biden’s first Border Patrol chief proclaimed “was arguably the most effective border security in” U.S. history. It took just a few months for Biden to ditch nearly all of those policies, most significantly the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), better known as “Remain in Mexico”.
Pursuant to MPP, illegal entrants who weren’t Mexican nationals were returned across the border to await their removal hearings. A DHS October 2019 assessment of the program deemed MPP “an indispensable tool in addressing the ongoing crisis at the southern border and restoring integrity to the immigration system”.
Candidate Joe Biden disparaged MPP on the campaign trail, and as president he quickly shelved it, fighting for more than a year in federal court to end the program. But why would Biden want to end an “indispensable program”?
Because, like detention of illegal entrants (which Congress has mandated) and prosecuting aliens for illegal entry — two other tools Congress gave DHS to gain control of the border that Biden has rejected — MPP deters foreign nationals from crossing illicitly. And in a break with all of his predecessors, Biden has flatly rejected deterrence of illegal entrants as a border policy.
Instead, as Biden’s DHS secretary explains it, the administration’s border objective is ensuring “we have safe, orderly, and legal pathways for individuals to be able to access our legal system”. That means releasing them into the United States to apply for asylum, regardless of the strength of their claims and the effect such a policy would have on an already overburdened immigration court system.
Consequently, through the end of August, the Biden administration has released more than 1.3 million illegal migrants into the United States, thus encouraging even greater numbers to follow.
Given how most U.S. media outlets portray alien prosecutions and detention, and Remain in Mexico, many Americans likely have scant understanding of the relationship between Biden’s policies and the humanitarian disaster at the Southwest border. But everybody can understand the effectiveness of a “wall” in keeping foreign nationals, who have no right to enter the United States, out.
As in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the wall is a proxy for border control, and Americans plainly want a lot more of that now. Hence the surge in support for wall construction — and in trust in Biden’s political opponents to secure the border.