Trump v. Biden on the Border

Another question from the latest WSJ poll, and what congressional Democrats may want to keep in mind

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 14, 2023

In a recent post, I analyzed the latest Wall Street Journal poll, focusing on the significant importance respondents claimed they would be placing on candidates’ immigration policies in the upcoming 2024 elections. What I didn’t mention was what that poll had to say about how the worsening border crisis would influence their votes for president, assuming current frontrunners Joe Biden and Donald Trump win their respective parties’ nominations. Let’s just say it’s no wonder Trump is returning to what was a winning issue for him during his successful 2016 presidential run. Congressional Democrats, locked into negotiations with their GOP colleagues over border reforms, may want to take note. 

The poll was conducted between November 29 and December 4 by research group Fabrizio Lee and surveyed 1,500 registered voters.

A Quick Recap

To briefly recap, 13 percent of respondents identified “immigration” as their most important issue when casting their ballots in November, making it the second most common “most important issue” in that poll out of 35 different choices (and trailing economic issues by only 8 points).

That represents a 2-point climb in importance for this issue since August, but more importantly it’s more than twice as many respondents who stated that immigration would be their key issue when voting compared to the Journal’s April poll, when just 6 percent of respondents stated that immigration would be the foremost concern on their minds when voting. 

The significance of that increase in voters’ concerns about immigration is most apparent when you consider that when the April poll was taken, border security was trending as an issue because Title 42 was set to end the next month, with a migrant surge expected to follow. Concerns about the administration’s immigration policies have clearly morphed into anxiety among many in the electorate. 

That poll also revealed that not only is immigration a leading issue for a significant number of voters, but that a large percentage of them (again, 13 percent) claim they’ll refuse to support any candidate who does not share their immigration views. Thus, more than 1 in 8 voters will cast their ballot — or not vote at all — based on what a candidate has to say about this key topic. 

Approval of Biden’s Handling of Border Security

That poll also reveals that just 27 percent of voters approve of the job Joe Biden is doing in securing the border, and even then, a mere 7 percent of them “strongly” approve. If you aren’t happy with what’s occurring at the U.S.-Mexico line, rest assured you’re not alone. 

By contrast, 64 percent of those polled disapproved of Biden’s handling of the border, with half — 50 percent — stating that they “strongly” disapproved. Given all this, one wonders what ideological thrall the White House has fallen into for it to keep pushing its migrant “catch-and-release” policies. 

Biden’s approval on border security is down 2 points from August and 6 points from April. Disapproval of the president’s handling of the border has consequently risen 5 points since April, with those “strongly disapproving” jumping 2 points. Approval of Biden’s efforts to secure the border is his lowest out of six performance areas polled. By comparison, Biden’s second-worst issue is “handling inflation and rising costs”, where he receives 30 percent approval for his performance (and 13 percent “strong approval”, nearly double his border-security score). 

Biden v. Trump on Securing the Border

Finally, the Journal asked respondents: “Between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, who in your opinion is BEST ABLE” to secure the border. 

More than half — 54 percent — chose Trump, while just 24 percent said it was Biden (2 percent stated “both equally” and a truly pessimistic 15 percent said “neither”). 

The Journal has not previously polled on this specific matchup, so unfortunately there’s no way to track the trend. As far back as November 2021, however, the Journal performed a similar survey in which respondents trusted “Republicans in Congress” much more strongly than their Democratic counterparts to secure the border, by a 52 to 16 percent split. Maybe border security is simply a GOP strongpoint. 

That said, a July 2018 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that just 41 percent of respondents approved of then-President Trump’s handling of border security and immigration, while 51 percent disapproved, so the most recent poll likely reveals a newfound appreciation of the former chief executive’s efforts in these areas. To quote 1960s folksinger Joni Mitchell: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone”.

Border security is Trump’s strongest suit in a head-to-head matchup with the incumbent, though he also has the edge over Biden by a 52 to 35 margin when it comes to rebuilding the economy, 51 points to 30 with respect to “getting inflation under control”, and a 47 to 30 margin in his favor with respect to reducing crime. 

Trump knows border security is Biden’s biggest vulnerability, which as I‘ve explained is why the former president sought the endorsement of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the Republicans’ face on the issue. Whether congressional Democrats, currently taking a hard line on GOP demands for border reform, realize Biden’s immigration policies could them weigh down in November, too, is the question.