The Poll Nobody’s Talking About — but Should Be

Voters want to ‘build the wall’, make it harder to get asylum and easier to expel migrants, and hire more Border Patrol agents — so why isn’t that happening?

By Andrew R. Arthur on March 22, 2024

The latest Yahoo! News/YouGov poll is out, and you likely haven’t heard anything about it — though you should have. It shows that solid majorities of American voters favor “building a wall” at the Southwest border, making it harder for aliens to receive asylum and easier for the government to expel migrants, and hiring more Border Patrol agents and asylum officers. It makes you wonder why none of those things are happening.

The poll was conducted between March 8 and 11, and involved 1,482 U.S. adults — and more importantly, nearly 1,000 registered voters.

Presidential Approval on Immigration

As with most such polls conducted over the past three years, this one shows a majority of Americans disapprove of President Biden’s handling of immigration.

Just 33 percent of respondents approve of the job Joe Biden is doing on immigration, while 57 percent disapprove. Among registered voters, Biden’s doing both better and worse, with 36 percent approving and 57 percent disapproving. Those numbers are even worse for the administration than they appear.

That’s because two-thirds of Democrats, 66 percent, approve of the president’s handling of immigration, while just over a quarter, 26 percent disapprove. That skews the polling on this question in Biden’s favor.

He can’t, however, win reelection in November with only Democratic votes, and on this question, at least, he’s not picking up any support from Independents, 65 percent of whom disapprove of Biden’s handling of immigration compared to 25 percent who approve.

Has the Border Gotten Better or Worse Since President Biden Took Office? Of course, voters’ dissatisfaction with the president’s handling of immigration has a lot to do with the chaos that has roiled the Southwest border since he’s been in office.

Respondents were asked: “On the whole, has the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border gotten better or worse since President Biden took office?” In response, 9 percent said it had gotten better, 53 percent worse, and 26 percent said that it had stayed the same.

As for registered voters, 55 percent of them believe that the border has gotten worse on Biden’s watch, 10 percent think it’s better, and again, 26 percent thought it remained the same. Get ready for the partisan skew.

That skew surprised even me, as 20 percent of Democrats saw improvement at the border since January 2021 and less than a quarter — 24 percent — believed things there had gotten worse, while a 43 percent plurality didn’t see much difference.

Turning to the Independents, however (just accept that GOP voters view all of these issues negatively), a whopping 61 percent of the politically unaligned believe the Southwest border has gotten worse since President Biden took office, compared to a measly 5 percent who thought things had gotten better there and 25 percent who didn’t see much difference.

The most important takeaway from this question is that 91 percent of those who plan to vote for Donald Trump in the 2024 elections say that the border has gotten worse under Biden, while conversely, there isn’t much difference between the would-be Biden voters who say that the border has gotten better (20 percent) and those who think it has gotten worse (19 percent). A plurality — 48 percent — of Biden supporters believe it’s about the same.

In other words, it does not appear that anybody who plans to pull the Biden lever come November cares much about the border, while it is a prime motivator among Trump supporters.

What Should Be Done?

If a solid majority of voters thinks that the border is a problem, what do they believe should be done to fix it? Fortunately, the Yahoo News!/YouGov poll asked respondents whether they favored or opposed six different approaches to fixing our immigration system.

“Building a Wall”. One of those approaches was “Building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border”, which a majority of total respondents (51 percent) approved of and a third (33 percent) opposed.

While the same percentage of registered voters opposed building a wall (again, 33 percent), a larger majority, 56 percent, of those eligible to cast ballots approve of the idea. Compare that to Gallup polling from January 2019, which found that just 40 percent of Americans supported wall construction and 60 percent opposed it.

To quote Joni Mitchell: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

Raising the Asylum Standard. Respondents were next asked whether they supported or opposed “raising the requirements for immigrants to receive political asylum” as a response to the immigration situation.

In response, 55 percent of those polled supported such an approach, including a plurality of Democrats (44 percent) as well as 58 percent of Independents and overall registered voters.

Overall, less than a quarter of registered voters (24 percent) opposed raising the asylum standard, most prominently 31 percent of Democrats, but also 15 percent of GOP voters and 18 percent of Independents.

Making It Easier to Expel Migrants. Respondents were then asked whether they were in favor of or opposed to “making it easier to expel migrants from the U.S.” as an approach to immigration.

That option was even more popular than wall construction or asylum reform, with 58 percent of overall respondents (and a whopping 64 percent of registered voters) favoring such a measure and just 21 percent of overall respondents (and 20 percent of registered voters) opposing it.

By this point, it should come as no surprise that Democrats led the way in opposing quicker expulsions, with 31 percent opposing such a plan, but still, that lagged the 45 percent of the president’s fellow partisans who supported it.

Expanded Hiring. Pollsters also asked respondents whether they supported or opposed proposals to expand the hiring of asylum officers and “border security agents”, the latter in this context Border Patrol agents.

That was far and away the most popular approach among those surveyed, favored by 68 percent of overall respondents (and 74 percent of registered voters) compared to just 14 percent of total respondents (and 13 percent of registered voters) who opposed such an approach.

That suggests that voters and Americans as a whole believe the border crisis is something the government can throw money at, which is one of the few things that Congress can do well these days.

“Shuttering the Border”. In addition, respondents were asked whether they favored or opposed “automatically shuttering the border if illegal crossings reach a certain average daily threshold”.

While that approach was not as popular as expanding the cadres of asylum officers and Border Patrol agents, it still received a lot of support, with 58 percent of overall respondents (and 62 percent of registered voters) supporting it compared to just 19 percent of total respondents (and 20 percent of registered voters) opposing it.

If you had told me in October 2020 that a solid majority would favor putting out a “Sorry — We’re Full” sign at the Southwest border, I would not have believed you. That said, this question would have been much more helpful had YouGov actually included a “daily threshold figure” with respect to that question, like say 1,000 or 5,000 illegal entries per diem.

Amnesty. Finally, respondents were asked whether “providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.” would be an approach they favored or opposed in response to the issue of immigration.

Some 48 percent of respondents overall — and 49 percent of registered voters — approved of such a plan, compared to 35 percent of total respondents and 38 percent of registered voters who opposed an amnesty.

That made amnesty the least popular of the approaches YouGov offered as a response to the issue of immigration, and the one with the largest partisan skew across the board: While 67 percent of Democrats favored such a measure, only 45 percent of Independents did. Meanwhile, amnesty is really unpopular among GOP voters, 60 percent of whom opposed it (though 27 percent of Republican voters did favor such a plan).

Note, however, how much support for amnesty has fallen during Biden’s presidency. In the 2019 Gallup poll that I referenced above, 81 percent of respondents supported the legalization of illegal aliens living in the United States, itself a slight decline from 2016 when Trump was elected president and 84 percent of those polled supported amnesty.

Senate Border Bill

If a few of these approaches sound familiar, that’s because they were included in the short-lived Senate border bill, which was cobbled together by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Krysten Sinema (I-Ariz.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and defeated shortly after it was released.

Proponents of the bill contended it would give the president the authority to shut down the border once apprehensions reached 4,000 per day, and that the president would be forced to shut it down once apprehensions reached 5,000 per day over a seven-day period or 8,500 in a single day.

That’s all true, but as I have explained, those thresholds well exceed the daily average of Southwest border apprehensions in the 13-year period between FY 2007 to FY 2019 of 1,354 per day, and even the daily apprehension average between FY 2007 and FY 2019 of 1,988 per day. On this count, the bill would have done no good.

Supporters of the measure also claimed that it would have “modestly raised the asylum standard”. If that were the intention of the drafters, however, that would not have been the result that they would have achieved, as I have explained in-depth elsewhere.

It also would have increased the number of Border Patrol agents and (especially) USCIS asylum officers, but as I also explained at the time, those asylum officers would have been processing migrants under a system much less reliable than the current immigration court system, resulting in more erroneous grants to aliens with meritless claims.

Nonetheless, President Biden has been using the demise of that bill as a talking point against his likely GOP opponent, Donald Trump, as well as against congressional Republicans. Consider the following excerpt from his latest State of the Union address, on March 7:

In November, my team began serious negotiations with a bipartisan group of Senators.

The result was a bipartisan bill with the toughest set of border security reforms we’ve ever seen in this country.


The Border Patrol Union endorsed the bill.

The Chamber of Commerce endorsed the bill.

I believe that given the opportunity a majority of the House and Senate would endorse it as well.

But unfortunately, politics have derailed it so far.

I’m told my predecessor called Republicans in Congress and demanded they block the bill. He feels it would be a political win for me and a political loser for him.

That last part may be true, but I have searched for evidence of that claim and have been unable to find it. Rather, it appears that the bill was defeated because senators quickly realized that it would not have secured the border.

Despite all of that, YouGov asked respondents the following question:

Earlier this year, a group of Republican and Democratic senators struck a $20 billion bipartisan border deal that would raise the bar for asylum, hire more asylum officers and border security agents, make it easier to expel migrants and automatically close the border if illegal crossings reach a certain average daily threshold. Do you favor or oppose this border deal?

Given that description of the bill, it wasn’t a surprise that 58 percent of those polled supported the measure (as did 60 percent of registered voters) while only 18 percent of total respondents opposed it (including 20 percent of registered voters).

Plainly, congressional Republicans and Trump himself have two choices: Either get behind the Senate bill or do a better job explaining their opposition to it, because it’s clear that few voters understand the measure very well at this juncture.

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The biggest takeaway from this poll is that solid majorities of voters support border “wall” construction, raising asylum standards, making it easier to expel illegal migrants, hiring more Border Patrol agents, and closing the border in response to migrant surges — which begs the question why Congress isn’t doing any of that. Only the big poll in November matters, of course, and if candidates hope to get passing marks then, they should take a look at this poll now.