Quinnipiac Polling Spells More Border Trouble for Biden

He should change his border policies, because he does not have much support to lose

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 16, 2021

In my last post, I analyzed recent polling showing that congressional Republicans have an opportunity to take advantage of immigration as an issue. A new poll shows that Biden’s performance — or lack thereof — at the Southwest border spells trouble for the president.

On April 14, Quinnipiac University released a nationwide poll of 1,237 adults, which was conducted between April 8 and 12. It gauged opinions on the president’s approval generally, as well as his performance in various specific areas.

Some of those numbers were good for the incumbent, and some not so good. Biden’s handling of the situation at the Southwest border received dreadful ratings, including from some surprising demographic groups.

First, though, on the “good” side of the ledger for Biden, the president received high marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic: 64 percent of respondents approved of the way he is responding to the health emergency, 29 percent disapproved, and 7 percent offered no opinion.

The president’s handling of the economy also received (comparably) high marks. Of those who responded, 50 percent approved of Biden’s performance, 42 percent disapproved, and 8 percent offered no opinion.

I say “comparably” because the Quinnipiac poll revealed that the president’s overall approval rating was at 48 percent. That’s not to say that 52 percent disapproved of the president generally; rather, Biden’s overall disapproval rating was 42 percent, with 10 percent either not knowing or having no opinion.

It’s a little unclear how 10 percent of respondents either did not know or had no opinion on the performance of a politician who served in the Senate for 36 years (from 1973 to 2009), was vice president for eight years (2009 to 2017), and won more votes for president than any other candidate in history after the most contentious election in most people’s recollection.

That said, mine may be an “inside the Beltway” perspective, and I understand that people elsewhere have more important things to think about. Even then, however, if fewer than half of your constituents approve of the job that you are doing less than three months into your term, that’s a problem.

The situation at the Southwest border is likely a big part of why Biden is not polling better. The Quinnipiac poll shows that 55 percent of respondents disapprove of the way that the president is handling that situation, as opposed to just 29 percent who approve (15 percent didn’t know or had no answer).

Even that dismal approval rating is somewhat inflated by the fact that 58 percent of Democrats approve of Biden’s job at the border. Not surprisingly, 88 percent of Republicans disapprove of his performance in this area, but that is actually a higher percentage of GOP respondents in disapproval than the president’s disapproval rating generally with Republicans (87 percent, 77 percent “strongly” so).

Partisans will be partisans, but key elements of those polled spell bigger trouble for the president in his handling of the migrant crisis (my words, not Quinnipiac’s).

The president’s approval ratings are actually lower — and his disapproval ratings higher — among younger voters with respect to his performance at the Mexican border, and in particular among “Millennials” (those aged 25 to 40) and “Gen Z” (those 24 and younger).

Quinnipiac does not match the numbers up for those generations perfectly, but 57 percent of those aged 18 to 34 disapprove of Biden’s handling of the situation at the Southwest border, while a measly 24 percent approve.

He did not do much better with older Millennials and younger “Gen-Xers” (born between 1964 and 1981). Respondents aged 35 to 49 also registered a 57 percent disapproval rating. But they are either better informed, more sympathetic to Biden’s plight, or more opinionated, because 28 percent of them approved of the job that the president is doing in this area (remaining respondents in both cohorts either did not know or had no answer).

By comparison, Biden’s approval numbers on his handling of the situation at the Southwest border are actually better among older Americans, though still not good.

Thirty-three percent of those aged 50 to 64 approve of Biden’s performance in this area, as do 35 percent of those aged 65 or higher. In these cohorts, 55 and 50 percent, respectively, disapprove. The 50- to 64-year-old crowd is the least likely to not know or have no opinion: 12 percent.

The Quinnipiac poll also shows Biden way under water with Independents (whose votes will be crucial to both the mid-term congressional races and Biden’s reelection chances) on this issue. A mere 22 percent of Independents approve of Biden’s handling of the situation at the border, with 64 percent disapproving — almost a three-to-one split.

That could spell trouble for Biden’s agenda in the 118th Congress, if enough Independents were to send a “message” to the president by electing Republicans in November 2022.

All of this raises a major point. “The way Joe Biden is handling ... the situation at the Mexican border” can mean different things to different people, none of which is really good for the president.

On the one hand, one could blame the president for the fact that Border Patrol apprehensions at the Southwest border were at a 20-year high in March (as I reported on April 8), and therefore disapprove of his performance in this area.

On the other, one could passionately condemn the conditions under which 3,130 children are being detained “in the custody of CBP, an agency not intended to care for children for prolonged periods of time” as of April 11.

As an aside, CNN reported those custody numbers under the headline “Number of unaccompanied migrant children in Customs and Border Protection custody falls 45%”, putting a happy face on the fact that while the problem is bad, it was much worse not long ago (reaching “5,767 on March 28”).

Donald Trump was excoriated when there were less than half as many (2,600) unaccompanied children in those CBP facilities at the height of the migrant “crisis” in June 2019, and Biden campaigned on the fact that his immigration policies were to be much different from Trump’s.

Needless to say, these statistics show that the problem is and was the sheer number of migrants (then and now), not the man in charge, but some erstwhile Biden supporters may nonetheless be feeling “buyer’s remorse”.

Similarly, news reports that the Biden administration is spending $60 million per week to place 16,000 migrant children in shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), costs that “are expected to rise significantly over the coming months”, may have soured many of those polled on the president’s handling of the border situation.

Complaints that have been raised about the health and safety conditions in those HHS facilities could well have added to such fiscal concerns in the minds of those and other respondents.

In other words, the surge of migrants (and in particular migrant children) at the Southwest border creates a “no-win” situation for Biden. Some will blame him for the fact that so many are coming, and others will blame him for the conditions in which those migrants are kept.

But those conditions are exacerbated by the fact that this flow is so unprecedented that there are no permanent facilities to house them, creating a vicious circle of disapproval for the president.

The only thing that will quickly make the situation at the border better is for Biden to reverse course on his rollback of many of the Trump initiatives that held the border in check (as I argued he should on April 13). Doing so risks an erosion of support from his base, but as the Quinnipiac poll reveals, Biden does not really have that much support for his border policies now, so he doesn’t have much to lose.