President’s Immigration Approval Drops in Latest Economist/YouGov Poll

The more Biden talks about the border, the fewer people like what he’s done there

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 17, 2024

The latest poll from UK magazine The Economist and public opinion shop YouGov is out, and it shows that voters’ approval of the president’s handling of immigration is dropping, even as he’s rolling out his latest plan to address the chaos at the Southwest border. If I were advising Joe Biden, I’d tell the candidate to stop talking about the issue, because the more he does, the less the electorate likes what’s happening. 

Polling was performed between June 9 and 11, with YouGov surveying 1,595 U.S. citizens, including on the immigration question 1,389 registered voters. It has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent among those voters, and +/- 3.2 percent generally. 

“Most Important Issue”

Pollsters asked respondents to identify from a list of 15 different issues which was most important to them. You likely won’t be surprised to learn that “immigration” was near the top. 

Nor will you likely be taken aback that “inflation/prices” led the pack, the choice of 20 percent of registered voters and 22 percent of Americans generally. “Jobs and the economy” came in third, the most pressing concern to 10 percent of both voters and citizens overall. 

That leaves second place, which was immigration—the most important issue to 14 percent of total respondents and, most significantly, 16 percent of registered voters. 

That includes 31 percent of Republicans (it was their leading issue, outpacing inflation by 4 points), 11 percent of self-described Independents (tied for second with “health care” among the politically unaligned), but just 2 percent of Democrats. 

In fact, among the president’s fellow partisans, nearly every other issue was more important than immigration: “climate change and the environment” (15 percent); “abortion” (14 percent); health care (13 percent); “civil rights” (6 percent); “civil liberties” (5 percent); “guns” (4 percent); and “education” (3 percent). 

At 2 percent interest, immigration was tied with two other issues that apparently don’t resonate with Democratic voters either, “taxes and government spending” and “crime” (though interestingly crime was more of a concern than “criminal justice reform” at 1 percent, tied with “foreign policy” for last place).

On no other single issue are GOP and Democratic voters more out of sync than on immigration, or for that matter are Democrats less like Independents. Which is likely why the president’s immigration policies are so far from the political center.

President Biden’s Approval Overall

President Biden is 23 points underwater generally according to this poll, with 36 percent of Americans approving of the job he is doing compared to 59 percent who disapprove. 

That said, he is performing slightly better among registered voters, 40 percent of whom approve of his handling of the office and 58 percent of whom disapprove, a margin of 18 points in the red.

That may have to do with the fact—and this is pretty important—that like most Economist/YouGov polls, this one is Democrat-heavy. Some 593 respondents to this poll share the president’s party affiliation; 587 identify as Independents; and just 415 said they were Republicans. 

Compare that to the latest Gallup poll on political affiliation (from April), which found that 45 percent of Americans identify as Independents, 27 percent as Republicans, and one in four—25 percent—as Democrats. Perhaps the latter simply like taking polls more.

It’s likely more significant that Biden is 40 points on the wrong side of Independents, 64 percent of whom disapprove of the president’s overall performance and just 24 percent of whom approve. Plainly, you can’t please everybody, but the incumbent likely wishes he was pleasing more swing voters.

President’s Approval on Immigration

Which brings me to the following question: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling immigration?” The results among registered voters: 29 percent approve/64 percent disapprove, for a total spread of -34 points. 

GOP respondents are especially displeased about the president’s handling of immigration, with 92 percent disapproving compared to just 6 percent who approve, for a margin of -86 points.

That said, and while Biden is doing much better among Democrats, 29 percent of the president’s fellow partisans nonetheless disapprove of Biden’s handling of immigration compared to the 60 percent who approve (for a margin of +31 points).

That leaves Independents, and when it comes to immigration and those who don’t hew to either major political party, the president has a problem: 67 percent disapproval/17 percent approval, for a margin of -50 points.

Now compare that current -34-point spread on immigration to the president’s historical performance with registered voters on the issue: February to March 2021 Economist/YouGov poll, -2 points; February 26 to March 1, 2022 poll, -15 points; February 25 to 29, 2023 poll, -24 points; March 3 to 5, 2024 poll, -30 points; June 2 to 4, 2024 poll, -29 points. 

Biden issued his latest immigration plan, his “Proclamation on Securing the Border”, to great fanfare on June 4. And in the interim, his overall disapproval with respect to immigration has dropped 5 points, outside the margin of error on a poll that always pulls from Democratic respondents. 

Some Unsolicited Advice

Perhaps that decline is mere happenstance, some sort of polling glitch, but I think the problem for the president is that voters really focus on immigration when it’s in the news (they are plainly thinking about it to some extent of late otherwise), and the White House literally put the border not only in the forefront of the news, but in the title of the president’s proclamation

Joe Biden—nearly 41 months into his presidency—had to issue a “Proclamation on Securing the Border” in early June 2024 because his efforts over the prior three years, four months, and 15 days had largely—through both action and indifference—created the chaos that now exists there.

Again, I’m not advising the president on immigration—though as a loyal American, I’d answer any call that came from the White House—but if I were I would have suggested something much more effective than this proclamation (which is largely smoke and mirrors) and any other title, perhaps “Proclamation on Further Strengthening the Border”.

The electorate plainly has a problem with President Biden’s immigration policies, which, as this polling reveals, are only popular with his base. Biden’s bigger issue is there doesn’t appear to be much he can do now to change voters’ minds. He’d be better off just changing the subject—but voters likely won’t let him do that, either.