Post-Debate Poll Reflects Voters’ Fears of Migrant Crime, Terrorism

Democrats aside, the electorate can see the costs and threats and are fed up with the political games

By Andrew R. Arthur on July 5, 2024

As national news outlets pored over polls conducted after the June 27 debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, one immigration-heavy poll — conducted by the Harris Poll and Harris X for the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University — has been largely ignored. Both sides should take a look at it, because it reveals that American voters are increasingly concerned about criminal activity and terrorism threats emanating from the Southwest border. It also shows that the electorate is at best ambivalent about — but not fooled by — the president’s recent executive actions, which most believe are more political than practical.

That poll was conducted online between June 28 and 30, with the Harris Poll and Harris X surveying 2,090 U.S. voters.

Biden Approval on Immigration. Respondents were asked whether they approved or disapproved of the president’s handling of 12 separate subject areas, ranging from “the economy” to “meeting our energy needs”.

Prior to the October 7 Hamas attacks into southern Israel, Biden generally received his lowest grades for his handling of immigration. Not anymore, though it’s close: just 33 percent of respondents approved of Biden’s response to the “Israeli-Hamas conflict”, one point lower than the grade voters gave him for the job he is doing on both inflation (34 percent) and immigration (again, 34 percent).

To put Biden’s 34 percent approval rating on immigration into context, however, that is the lowest grade the president has received on his handling of the subject in the past 25 months (since May 2022), and a six-point decline in a month (he received 40 percent approval for his handling of immigration in May).

That said, Biden has had similar valleys in his immigration support in the past, most notably in January and February. I’ll return to the president’s dreadful immigration approval rating below to explain why his current grade is so bad.

Immigration Surges As a Top Issue. Respondents were next given a list of 29 separate subjects and asked: “What would you say are the most important issues facing the country today?”

Some 37 percent said it was “inflation”, putting it in first place, which is not much of a surprise. What is a surprise is that immigration has again surged to the penultimate spot, with 35 percent of respondents identifying it as the most important issue.

That is a three-point gain for immigration in just a month, but not all voters are equally concerned about it. Just 20 percent of Democrats identified it as a top issue, compared to 35 percent of Independents and more than half — 51 percent — of Republicans.

The most notable takeaway from responses to that question is that immigration is again surging as a leading issue, up three points from Harvard/Harris’ May polling.

As an interesting aside, just 29 percent of Democrats identified inflation as a pressing issue, again the top choice for Independents (37 percent) and the second-leading issue for Republicans (47 percent).

That’s critical, because unlike in certain other countries, voting in the United States isn’t compulsory, and it’s safe to say November will be a “turnout” election, with each party attempting to lure its adherents to the poll. As long as immigration remains a major concern for GOP voters, they’ll be likely to show up, which will be a problem for a president who polls increasingly poorly with them on the issue.

“Which of These Issues Is Most Important to You Personally?” Separately, Harvard/Harris asked respondents which of nine issues (inflation, immigration, abortion, “climate change”, crime, “racial equity”, “curbing guns”, “Israeli-Hamas conflict”, and “parental rights in schools”) was “most important” to them “personally”.

Inflation again led the way as the top personal issue of 45 percent of respondents, trailed by immigration (15 percent), abortion (10 percent), climate change (8 percent), crime (also 8 percent), and so on.

Once again, there was a partisan divide on this question. Independents more or less followed the overall trend, with 45 percent identifying inflation as the issue most important to them personally, followed by immigration (15 percent), abortion (11 percent), climate change (8 percent), and so on.

Republicans, however, were almost laser-focused on just two of those issues: inflation (a whopping 53 percent) and immigration (a not insignificant 24 percent). Do the math and you’ll see that more than three-quarters (77 percent) of GOP voters view November as an inflation and immigration election. Again, events in Gaza aside, those are President Biden’s biggest vulnerabilities.

To understand why the administration has failed to decisively act on immigration, however, all you need to do is look at the issues that are most important to the president’s fellow partisans.

Again, inflation leads the list as the issue most personally important to 38 percent of Democratic voters, but among this cohort, immigration (6 percent) trails climate change (15 percent), abortion (13 percent), crime (10 percent), and racial equity (8 percent).

“What Are the Top Issues, if Any, Caused by Mass Immigration?” “Immigration”, of course, can mean any number of different things, from those who want more immigrants to those who want to restrict entries by foreign nationals.

Fortunately, Harvard/Harris also asked: “What are the top issues, if any, caused by mass immigration?” The answers were revealing.

Two responses led the pack, as 57 percent were most concerned about an increase in “violence” and “crime” and an equal percentage (57 percent) most concerned about the impact mass immigration has on resources such as “healthcare” and “education”.

My colleagues and I have been analyzing those fiscal impacts since long before President Biden took office, but needless to say the historic surge at the Southwest border has exacerbated them. Apparently, we aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed that critical infrastructure is reeling under the migrant strain.

That said, again, there was a partisan split on the question. Independents were most likely to focus on the fiscal impacts of mass migration (59 percent), while Republicans were more inclined to focus on the increase in crime and violence (76 percent) and Democrats on the “rise in homelessness” (49 percent).

Part of the reason for these disparate responses likely has to do with the sources of information partisans draw upon for their news. Simply put, if you watch Fox News or Newsmax, you’re likely to hear a lot about migrant crime. CNN and MSNBC, on the other hand, downplay the issue.

That may seem like a generalization but let me offer you a concrete example. I’m a native Baltimorean, and the paper of record in Charm City is the (left-leaning) Baltimore Sun, which on July 3 ran an article captioned “Doctors say man charged in killing of Patterson High 16-year-old is mentally fit for trial”.

I don’t live in Baltimore anymore, so I was unfamiliar with the case, but here are the facts as reported: On the afternoon of March 6, 2023, a 16-year-old student named Izaiah Carter was gunned down behind his Southwest Baltimore high school following what was apparently a random dispute.

Murders aren’t a rarity in the city, but Carter was by all accounts a “good kid” who should have been safe from the violence — a popular student involved in JROTC who was holding down a part-time job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant and wine bar.

The suspect is Roger Alvarado-Mendoza, and his attorney initially argued he was “not criminally responsible by reason of insanity”. That plea is out the window now that doctors have determined he isn’t suffering from a “major mental illness” and wasn’t at the time of the alleged offense.

You have to read down 13 paragraphs, though, before you get to the following:

Then-Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said at the time of Alvarado-Mendoza’s arrest last March that he was apprehended in Texas while attempting to flee the country.

In court June 26 in response to questions from [Judge Gail] Rasin, Alvarado-Mendoza said he’d been deported once and returned to the United States because of “problems in Honduras.”

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, did not respond Wednesday to questions about Alvarado-Mendoza’s immigration status.

Izaiah Carter would almost definitely be alive and on a path to success but for Alvarado-Mendoza’s illicit presence in this country and his illegal possession of a firearm — facts that go directly to the question Harvard/Harris asked. But for some reason, the Sun has no interest in either highlighting his status or pressing ICE on the issue.

Voters Think the Border Is Getting Worse, and that the President Should Beef It Up. In any event, Harris also asked respondents: “Is the immigration problem at the border getting better, worse, or staying the same?”

In response, a solid majority — 57 percent — said that the border is getting worse, compared to just 15 percent who said it was getting better and 28 percent who don’t see much improvement. Here’s how that broke down on partisan lines:

Worse: GOP, 81 percent; Independent, 57 percent; Democrat, 35 percent.

Better: GOP, 6 percent; Independent, 11 percent; Democrat, 26 percent.

Staying the same: GOP, 14 percent; Independent, 31 percent; Democrat, 39 percent.

Again, I’ll return to these responses below, but first I want to focus on a separate question in the Harvard/Harris poll: “Do you think the Biden administration should keep its border policies the same or make it tougher to get into the US illegally?”

In response, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed (74 percent) want the Biden administration to beef up the border to curb illegal entries, compared to just 26 percent who want to maintain the status quo at the U.S.-Mexico line.

Not surprisingly, 88 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Independents want to see a tightening on illegal migration, but — in an interesting twist — a solid majority, 61 percent, of Democrats agree with their fellow voters on this point.

That said, 39 percent of Democrats prefer the status quo, a decidedly minority position among both GOP (12 percent) and Independent (26 percent) voters. To understand the administration’s seemingly feckless border policies and its unwillingness to secure the border, look no further than that response.

Terrorist Incursions Across the Southwest Border. Crime and fiscal costs are not the only migrant concerns on voters’ minds, as revealed by responses to the following poll question: “Do you think potential terrorists are slipping through the border, or do you think that is not true?”

In response, more than seven in 10 of those surveyed — 71 percent — said they believe potential terrorists are coming in illegally over the border, including more than half of Democrats (51 percent), a solid majority of Independents (69 percent), and 92 percent of Republicans.

Again, that said, nearly half of Democrats polled (49 percent) believe that statement is not true. Perhaps they were swayed by what I referred to in November as the “Dumbest ‘Fact-Check’ Ever”, a dispositive conclusion by the New York Times finding that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) claim that “terrorists have come in through our southern border” was “false”.

The problem is that DeSantis’ statement — and by implication the question that pollsters asked — are both dispositively true.

According to CBP statistics, agents have apprehended some 90 migrants on the terrorist watchlist at the Southwest border in the first eight months of FY 2024 alone, and as I’ve recently explained, ICE is reportedly trying to find 50 migrants who came in through what’s described as an “ISIS-affiliated human smuggling network”.

Maybe they haven’t launched an attack yet, but the sole reason we have a Department of Homeland Security is to prevent such individuals from getting in to begin with. In that, DHS has failed — and voters are concerned.

Majority Believes Biden’s “Asylum Ban” Driven by Politics. Perhaps I was unfair above when I stated the Biden administration isn’t doing anything to tighten security at the Southwest border, given the fact that I omitted his June 4 “Proclamation on Securing the Border”, which has been spun as an “asylum ban” for illegal migrants.

Of course, it’s no such thing. At best, it simply adds gloss to the president’s overlooked (for good reason) May 2023 “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” (CLAP) rule, which my colleague George Fishman aptly described as “feigned immigration enforcement”.

Nonetheless, Harvard/Harris dutifully asked respondents whether they thought “this asylum ban by the Biden administration is too little, too late; goes too far; or is about right?”

In response, a majority, 56 percent, of those polled stated it was “too little, too late”, including 59 percent of Independents, 80 percent of Republicans, and 30 percent of Democrats (a separate 53 percent of whom believe it is “about right”).

Separately, pollsters asked: “Does the new asylum ban mean the Biden administration has changed its views and changed course on immigration policy, or is this a decision driven by electoral politics and pressures that will be reversed after November?”

The cynics won the day on that question, with 59 percent of those polled dismissing it as a temporary electoral ploy (including 78 percent of GOP voters and 64 percent of Independents), compared to just 41 percent who believe that Biden has had a change of heart on the border (including a majority, 64 percent, of Democrats).

Ambivalence Over Biden’s “Parole in Place” for Alien Spouses. Finally, Harvard/Harris asked respondents their opinions about the administration’s June 18 “Parole in Place” (PIP) amnesty for an estimated 550,000 alien spouses who are married to U.S. citizens and their children. Voters’ attitudes to that plan is best described as ambivalent.

On the one hand, 52 percent of those polled — including 76 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Independents — support the proposal, compared to 48 percent of respondents (including 74 percent of Republicans and 47 percent of Independents) who oppose it.

On the other hand, however, an overwhelming majority — 64 percent — of respondents believe those alien spouses should play by existing immigration rules (including 79 percent of GOP voters, 64 percent of Independents, and 49 percent of Democrats) compared to just 36 percent who believe those spouses should “receive preference and expedited citizenship because they are supported by a U.S. citizen”.

Those two responses are, in my (expert) opinion utterly incompatible, but to be fair to the respondents, that PIP proposal has been laid out in such a slap-dash manner as to be all but incomprehensible.

If I Were Advising the President. As I’ve explained in the past, no one from the Biden White House has reached out to me for my opinions on immigration and the border. If I were advising the president, however, I would tell him to not discuss immigration or the border at all.

As I noted at the outset, his latest 34 percent approval rating on immigration is the lowest grade he has received in these polls, and the only periods that came close — 35 percent in January and February — were when the House was impeaching DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over his handling of the border and the Senate was considering its ill-fated (and ill-conceived) “bipartisan border bill”.

Biden’s fellow Democrat — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — grievously wounded Congress’ 235-year-old impeachment authority for no purpose whatsoever aside from sidestepping the prospect of putting Mayorkas’ manifold border failures on trial in the Upper Chamber, and he stopped wielding the poorly understood border bill as a political cudgel when it went down to bipartisan defeat.

Schumer has long been known as a canny politico who knows what to say — and more importantly, what not to. He understands that the more Congress talks about the border, regardless of the context, the more attention voters will pay to it and the less they’ll like what’s happening there.

Biden — or more specifically his advisors — aren’t that shrewd. They understand that the border is an electoral albatross, which is why they float proposals like the June 4 “asylum ban”, but they also know that in a turnout election they cannot afford to alienate their base, which explains the knee-jerk PIP amnesty.

The biggest problem the president faces, however, is that after 41 months, the vast majority of American voters have concluded the administration has no plan to secure the border and no intention of slowing current massive levels of illegal immigration.

As this poll shows, voters are fed up with the crime, fiscal costs, and terrorist threats Biden’s border schemes have exposed them to — and worse for the president’s electoral prospects, aside from his fellow Democrats, they can see the political games he’s playing, too. If I were him, I’d stop talking about the border at all.