Polling Shows Immigration Opportunities for GOP in House ‘Swing’ Races

If things don’t get better at the border, look for Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 15, 2021

Recent polling shows that the Republican Party has opportunities to leverage the issue of immigration to gain congressional seats in the 2022 mid-term elections, but the GOP is not on a glide path to the Speaker’s Gavel — yet.

A Morning Consult/Politico poll of 1,989 registered voters, conducted April 2-4, shows that 42 percent of those polled trust Democrats in Congress to handle the issue of immigration, while 38 percent trust Republicans on Capitol Hill (19 percent didn’t know or had no opinion).

That may not look like good news for the Party of Lincoln, but a similar poll by the same organizations of 1,990 registered voters conducted between March 6 and 8 showed 45 percent support for congressional Democrats in handling immigration, as opposed to, again, 38 percent for Republicans (17 percent didn’t know or had no opinion).

The GOP congressional conference may not be gaining support on the issue, but the Democratic caucus is losing it, most likely because of the president’s performance in handling the crisis at the Southwest border.

Digging into the polling further reveals bigger problems for the Democrats.

According to the more recent polling, crucial swing Independent voters favor congressional Republicans’ handling of immigration by a six-point margin (36 percent to 30 percent for Democrats, with 34 percent “Don’t know/No opinion”). Notably, that is a shift in Independents’ attitudes from the early March polling, when 37 percent trusted congressional Democrats and 35 percent put their faith in the GOP.

Democrats in Congress have significantly slipped in the opinion of middle-class Americans on their handling of immigration, as well.

In the March poll, congressional Democrats enjoyed a seven-point advantage among those making between $50,000 and $100,000, with 47 percent preferring Democrats handling of the issue to 40 percent for the Republicans. By April, Democrats were two points in the hole with those voters, 41 percent to 43 percent.

Note that all of this does not mean that Republican support is growing (much), just that Democratic support is shrinking — at least for the time being.

Given the fact that Republicans are in the minority in both houses of Congress, and therefore have little to no influence over legislation (especially in the House of Representatives, where the majority always rules), they may be better served by simply pointing out the administration’s poor handling of the border crisis and leaving their Democratic colleagues to take the blame.

Speaking of the House of Representatives, the conservative group Heritage Action released two polls on April 13, one of 1,200 likely voters in 16 key congressional districts and another of 1,200 likely voters in 19 swing suburban counties.

Fifty-six percent of respondents in those key congressional districts and 57 percent in the swing suburban counties agreed that Biden was to blame for the increase in illegal immigration, due to his reversal of “a number of tough Trump policies with regard to immigration” through executive orders. Forty percent and 38 percent of those polled disagreed, respectively.

Similarly, 70 percent of respondents in the key congressional districts and 72 percent in the swing suburban counties agreed with the statement: “We have to get control of our southern border because illegal immigrants are costing taxpayers billions of dollars which we simply cannot afford right now”.

And, in a slightly different vein, 65 percent of respondents in those congressional districts and 63 percent in the swing suburban counties agreed with the statement: “The surge of illegal immigrants entering the country has become a serious public safety issue because some are violent criminals running from law enforcement in their home country.”

I say “in a slightly different vein” because the first question is a “pocketbook issue” and the second is a “quality of life” one.

In the abstract, illegal immigration at the border is usually a theoretical concern. All things considered, Americans are a fairly law-abiding people: We obey the laws (generally, you do see a lot of jaywalking in D.C., though), and expect others to do the same. An out-of-control border shows a dereliction of the administration’s duty to enforce that standard.

An increase in direct fiscal costs due to increased illegal immigration (especially during this expanded tax season) is a concrete consequence of that otherwise theoretical concept. We expect the rules to be enforced (as stated above), and we don’t want to pay millions extra because tens of thousands of migrants have entered illegally (as occurred last month).

The illegal entry of criminal aliens, on the other hand, brings the chaos at the border closer to America’s neighborhoods and towns.

Of course, the public only knows that a criminal is an alien (let alone one who entered illegally) when the government says so. Therefore, don’t be surprised when ICE under the Biden administration falls back on the Privacy Act to avoid disclosing the immigration status of a gang member charged with a heinous murder or a drunk driver who kills two people on the side of the road.

That said, we can all imagine that there are more than a few bad apples getting past the Border Patrol when it has to deal with more than 168,000 apprehensions in a month (again, as it did in March). That concern is reflected in the responses to the third Heritage Action question above. We don’t want to feel less safe in our communities because of the government’s nonfeasance in stopping those criminals.

The Heritage Action poll shows that immigration is a bigger vulnerability for House Democrats than even their diminished performance in the April Morning Consult/Politico poll does.

With the swearing-in of Rep. Julia Letlow (R, La.-5) to fill the congressional seat that went vacant due to the death of her husband, then Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, Democrats hold only a six-seat edge in the House, 218 to 212 for the Republicans.

Five seats are currently vacant, and of those, three favor the Democrats and two the GOP. That means that Democrats are heading into the midterms with a likely seven-seat majority. If they lose four or more of those seats, Republicans will control the chamber and Biden’s legislative amnesty plans will be on ice.

Nine of the 16 congressional districts in the Heritage Action poll are currently held by Democrats, although the election website Ballotpedia reports six favor Republicans. Another — Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District — is evenly split. Only one Republican-held seat (Florida’s 26th Congressional District) favors Democrats, and one (California’s 21st Congressional District) is a draw.

That means that immigration could be a “make-or-break” issue in the 2022 elections in each. If they break toward Republicans in a year that otherwise favors incumbents, Democrats will lose control of the lower chamber.

Again, the GOP is far from being in the driver’s seat on immigration. If the border continues to deteriorate (as I expect it will, unless the Biden administration and/or Congress make some changes to turn off the policy and legal magnets attracting illegal migrants), however, the 118th Congress may be gaveled in by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).