Polling: Immigration’s a Key Issue for Voters and a Big Liability for Biden

Especially among Republicans ... and Catholics

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 5, 2022

The midterm congressional elections — which will determine control of the House and Senate — are about five weeks away. Recent polling reveals that immigration will be a key issue when voters, Republicans and Catholics in particular, head to the ballot box. That could be bad for the president’s fellow Democrats because it is an area in which he polls poorly, but it’s an opportunity the GOP could let slip away.

Reuters/Ipsos. Between September 26 and 27, wire service Reuters and opinion outfit Ipsos polled 1,004 Americans, aged 18 and older.

Even though this poll skewed heavily toward Democratic voters (who made up nearly 47 percent of respondents, compared to 36.5 percent who identified as Republicans and fewer than 12 percent as Independents), 67 percent of those polled believe that the country is on the “wrong track”, compared to just 21 percent who believe it is on the “right track”.

Worse, and despite that partisan skew in favor of his fellow Democrats, just 41 percent of respondents approved of the job that Joe Biden is doing as president, compared to 53 percent who disapproved.

Most importantly, when given 13 topic issues (plus one “other”) and asked which one was the most important facing the United States today, “immigration” came in third, tied with “environment and climate” at 7 percent, trailing the “economy, unemployment and jobs” (31 percent) and “crime or corruption” (9 percent).

The importance of immigration as an issue was not chosen equally across party lines. Just 1 percent of Democrats believe it’s the most important facing the country, while 13 percent of Republicans said it was. Except for economic issues, immigration is the most important in the minds of Republican voters in that poll.

Monmouth. Monmouth University conducted a similar poll between September 21 and 25, and although the polling size was smaller (806 U.S. adults aged 18 or older), it did not suffer from the partisan skew in the Reuters/Ipsos poll. Twenty-nine percent of respondents in the Monmouth poll identified as Democrats, 28 percent as Republicans, and 43 percent as Independents.

In that poll, 38 percent of respondents approved of the job that the president is doing, compared to 54 percent who disapproved. Biden’s handling of immigration is likely a big part of the reason that he received such low marks, as just 31 percent approved of the job that he is doing with respect to the issue, compared to 63 percent who disapproved.

Next to Biden’s dismal approval rating when it comes to inflation (30 percent approve/66 percent disapprove), that is the president’s lowest rating in that poll. Curiously, the president also received low marks when it came to abortion (31 percent approve/59 percent disapprove), but his high disapproval rating on immigration made it his second largest vulnerability amongst Americans.

That’s a problem for Democrats (and an opportunity for Republicans) because 67 percent of those polled believe that it is either extremely important (30 percent) or very important (37 percent) for the federal government to address immigration.

Admittedly there are other big issues on the minds of the voters. Eighty-two percent of respondents believe that it is either extremely important (37 percent) or very important (45 percent) for the federal government to tackle inflation, and 72 percent want the federal government to do something about crime (an extremely important issue for 34 percent of respondents, and a very important one for an additional 38 percent).

Interestingly, there is also a high level of concern among U.S. adults when it comes to elections and voting. In the Monmouth poll, 70 percent of respondents want the federal government to do more to address those issues, with 37 percent believing that it is extremely important for Washington to do something about them, and an additional 33 percent identifying it as a very important issue for the federal government to address.

Given the fact that both Stacie Abrams, once and current Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, and Donald Trump, erstwhile Republican president of the United States, have both cried foul in recent elections, however, I guess that electoral concerns should not come as that big of a surprise.

Even compared to some other hot-button issues, however, immigration weighs particularly heavily on the minds of American adults.

For example, 56 percent of those polled believe that it is important for the federal government to address abortion (31 percent extremely important, 25 percent very important), 49 percent want the national government do something about climate change (24 percent extremely important, 25 percent very important), and 51 percent want the feds to make progress on gun control (with 27 percent stating it’s extremely important and an additional 24 percent very important they do so).

The Economist/YouGov. UK journal The Economist and polling group YouGov also did a recent survey, this one of 1,500 U.S. adults (33 percent Democrats, 28 percent Republicans), aged 18 and older who were polled between September 24 and 27. The Economist/YouGov poll was extremely heavy on questions related to immigration, a topic on which, again, the president received low marks.

In that poll, 34 percent of respondents approved of Biden’s handling of immigration (10 percent “strongly”), compared to 53 percent who disapproved (a whopping 38 percent “strongly”).

Even that bleak showing doesn’t tell the whole story, because while 63 percent of Democrats approved of the job that Biden is doing on immigration, just 25 percent of Independents agreed (a measly 6 percent “strongly”), compared to 52 percent of Independents who disapproved (39 percent “strongly”).

Again, Republicans are really displeased when it comes to Biden’s handling of immigration. A mere 12 percent approved of the job he’s doing with respect to the subject (3 percent strongly), while an overwhelming percentage of GOP respondents — 84 percent — disapproved (74 percent strongly).

And yet, that poll gets worse for the White House and the Democrats who currently control Congress. Some 62 percent of respondents believe that illegal immigration is a problem for the country, compared to 23 percent who don’t view it as a problem.

That’s bad because those who view illegal immigration as a problem include 45 percent of Democrats (another 35 percent of them don’t view illegal immigration as a problem) and 55 percent of Independents (compared to a quarter, 25 percent, of the unaffiliated who don’t think illegal immigration is a problem).

As in the other polls, however, it is Republicans who are the most bothered by illegal immigration, with 88 percent of GOP adherents who think it is a problem for the United States, compared to just 8 percent who contends it isn’t.

Similarly, a clear majority of Americans in this poll, 59 percent, think that illegal immigration is a serious problem — 39 percent an “very serious” one, and 20 percent a “somewhat serious” problem facing the United States. Just 9 percent identified illegal immigration as a “minor problem”, while 23 percent don’t believe it is a problem at all.

There is, once more, a partisan imbalance in these results.

While only 18 percent of Democrats believe illegal immigration is a very serious problem (and an additional 28 percent think it is somewhat serious), 53 percent of Independents view illegal immigration as a problem (36 percent a very serious one), as do 83 percent of Republicans (very serious, 68 percent; somewhat serious, 15 percent).

If you are wondering why Border Patrol apprehensions at the Southwest border have hit new highs in both FY 2021 and FY 2022 (with a month to go in this fiscal year), it’s because Democrats are calling the shots at the White House and on Capitol Hill, and they don’t view illegal immigration as seriously as GOP and Independent voters do. If you don’t like it, they don’t care.

Catholic Voters. Trafalgar Group conducted perhaps the most targeted poll, for Catholic cable news network EWTN and RealClear Opinion Research Polls, in which 1,581 Catholic voters were questioned between September 12 and 19.

Before I go too deeply into that poll, let me make one confession and a couple of observations. First, like Joe Biden, I am a Roman Catholic. Second, the “Catholic vote” as a bloc no longer carries the same level of electoral weight as it did in the past, when most Catholics were ethnic Irish, Italians, Germans, or Poles, mainly concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest.

While just approximately a quarter of U.S. Catholics were Hispanics as recently as the 1980s, they constitute about 40 percent of parishioners in the United States today. They, along with their fellow coreligionists, are also spread more evenly across the country, including in the South and Southwest, than in the past.

Despite their more recent differences, Catholics still represent an electoral force to be reckoned with, given the fact that about one in five Americans identify with that faith. Of course, whether a candidate or party can get them all on the same page is a different question.

Interestingly, that poll found that moral and religious issues were only somewhat important to its Catholic respondents. While 10.1 percent asserted that “abortion” was the most important issue facing the country, and an additional 0.8 percent “religious freedom”, 34.2 percent stated it was inflation, and nearly one-fifth (19.7 percent) contended that it was the economy/jobs.

By contrast, the exact same percentage — 10.1 percent — of Catholics who believe abortion is the most important issue facing the United States contended that it was actually “immigration”. That means that, in the minds of Catholic voters, immigration is as important as abortion as the third most pressing problem facing our republic.

Both Real Clear Opinion Research and EWTN published articles reporting these findings, but neither said much about the somewhat surprising importance of immigration among American Catholics. That said, “immigration” can mean different things to different people, with some wanting more or some wanting less of it. EWTN, however, did note:

One potentially significant development that the poll found was a decline in support for the president and Democrats in general among Hispanic Catholics — traditionally a reliable Democrat voting bloc. When asked how they feel Biden is handling his job as president, 50% of Hispanic Catholics say they strongly approve (11%) or approve (39%), while nearly 47% say they either disapprove (7%) or strongly disapprove (40%). Biden’s numbers among white Catholics are much worse, with 54% strongly disapproving (51%) or disapproving (4%), compared to 44%, who either strongly approve (16%) or approve (28%).

Here's my take on those findings. While many American Catholic adults (27 percent) are foreign born, Catholicism is no longer the immigrant faith with tribal political loyalties that it was in the past. My mother, a daily communicant, kept a picture of President Kennedy in our house, for example.

Today, I know of few Catholics who focus on the fact that President Biden is “one of us”, any more than they think about the Catholicism of, say, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D), former speakers John Boehner (R) and Paul Ryan (R), or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R).

That political drift is increasingly true, as EWTN noted, of Hispanic Catholics. Perhaps “progressivism” and its attendant secular cultural demands are to blame, or perhaps they — like many ethnic Catholics of the past — are becoming more “mainstream” politically as time goes on.

In any event, 30 percent of congressional representatives and senators are Catholic, as are six of the nine justices on the Supreme Court, so politically the church is “punching above its weight”, to use a boxing term.

Key Takeaways. Midterms are often “turnout” elections, contests in which victory is determined by a party’s ability to turn out its voter “base”.

November’s elections look to be shaping up that way, as Democrats peddle threats to abortion and the environment as reasons for its partisans to show up at the polls, while Republicans raise the specters of crime and economic downturn to prod their adherents to head to the local precinct and cast a vote for the GOP.

It’s political malpractice for congressional Republicans to fail to highlight the border in their midterm campaign messaging. Not only is illegal immigration near the top of the list of most Americans’ concerns, but it’s also one of Joe Biden’s biggest vulnerabilities. Despite this fact, and except for a handful of races and conservative talking heads, it really hasn’t broken through in party messaging.

On the other hand, Democrats are doing well by hiding the humanitarian and national-security crisis at the border and changing the subject. Why is the White House “doubling down” on the vice president’s claim that the border is “secure” when it plainly isn’t? Because most of the national media isn’t going to counter a claim that the GOP itself isn’t largely contesting.

Regardless of which party wins control of Congress in November, something needs to be done about illegal immigration. If Democrats avoid an electoral wipeout this time around, their luck probably won’t hold when a new set of candidates with better messaging comes along in the 2024 general election. By the way, that campaign starts November 9 — the day after the midterm elections.