President Joe Biden may hope that Americans judge him for his work on COVID-19, and for the most part, respondents in the latest Economist/YouGov poll approve of how he is handling the pandemic. But for many, it may be what happens on immigration that matters more.
The influx of migrants – particularly unaccompanied minors – at the Southern border has created a new problem, and it’s one on which President Biden doesn’t fare especially well. More Americans disapprove (48%) than approve (35%) of his handling of that issue. Even among his own party, Biden’s approval rating on immigration (64% vs 19%) is much lower than his overall approval (84% vs 7%) and handling of COVID-19 (81% vs 9%).
One in four Republicans approves of President Biden’s handling of the pandemic (26% approve, 63% disapprove), but just 10% of Republicans approve of his handling of immigration (82% disapprove). Independents approve of his management of COVID-19 (45% vs 38%), but overwhelmingly disapprove of his immigration performance (28% approve, 52% disapprove).
The immigration crisis may be taking a toll on the President’s overall approval, too. Approval of how President Biden is doing his job overall reached a new low of 48%, although more continue to approve than disapprove (40%).
How important is the issue of immigration to Americans?
Over the last few years, immigration has become an issue of particular importance to Republicans. It was a driving issue in the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. Asked what they regard as the country’s most important issue, 19% choose jobs as their top issue. But nearly as many Republicans (18%) choose immigration, their second most important issue. All other issues trail in importance for them.
For Democrats, health care (22%) and climate change and the environment (20%) dominate; for Independents, it is health care (16%) and jobs (15%). For both Democrats (5%) and Independents (9%), immigration is in single digits as their most important issue.
Should unaccompanied minors at the border be turned away?
For Republicans today, there may be no middle ground on immigration. On many questions, a large majority takes a strict approach to those who enter the United States illegally. Three in five Republicans (61%) would not allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States but would make them leave.
That even goes for the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have arrived at the border — whom President Biden has allowed to stay in facilities along the border. Half of Republicans (49%) would turn them away, too. One-quarter of Republicans (23%) say these minors should be housed in government facilities until relatives can be found. Just 15% say these minors should be allowed to enter the United States to be cared for by religious or charitable organizations, and only 8% of Republicans want to allow them to stay in the country.
Americans overall tend to believe that children who arrive at the border without a parent or guardian should be turned away (28%) or housed in government buildings (28%). About one in five favor allowing charitable organizations to help the minors (18%) or allowing them to apply to stay in the United States as permanent residents.
Only one in 11 Democrats (9%) want to turn the unaccompanied minors away. One-third of Democrats (35%) support the Biden Administration’s current plan to house the children along the border. Three in 10 Democrats (30%) say they should be allowed to apply for permanent residency, and 21% support allowing charitable organizations to care for the children.
Republicans overwhelmingly oppose DACA today
There are many other immigrants here who arrived illegally in the United States as children. Some of them are now in their 40s. The “Dreamers,” as they are called, were given temporary legal status in the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created during Barack Obama’s presidency.
President Trump tried to end the program but was overruled in a 5-4 vote at the Supreme Court. President Biden supports the program. The politicization of the program has developed over time. As recently as 2017, a significant percentage of Republicans supported it (42% supported, 47% opposed). Now a majority do not (10% support vs 82% oppose).
Democrats overwhelmingly support DACA (76% vs 10%), something that has maintained since 2017 (79% supported, 17% opposed). They also claim to have compassion for the Dreamers. More than half say they care “a lot” about them. Just 11% of Republicans say that.
Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between March 27 - 30, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.9% for the overall sample