Polls show Democrats and Republicans in a dead heat on immigration
Washington, DC – The headlines have been relentless. Biden’s border policies are unpopular, Republicans call it a crisis, moderate Democrats are panicking and many in the punditry predict that the lifting of Title 42 will lead to a border surge this summer – and electoral disaster this fall. Nary a story is written without some Democratic hand wringing about how immigration is going to be a huge loser in the 2022 elections.
Except that polling of voters intending to vote doesn’t show that. Essentially, strong Democratic voters support Biden’s handling of immigration, strong Republican voters oppose Biden’s handling of immigration, and independent voters are split down the middle.
- The just-released NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll asked which party would do a better job handling immigration and found that Republicans have a narrow 37-34% margin over Democrats, with 28% of respondents unsure or blaming both.
- The just-released Washington Post-ABC News poll asked a virtually identical question and found that Republicans edge out Democrats by 43-40% margin, with independents evenly divided.
While immigration turns out to be something like a draw, there are issues that clearly work for one party over the other. The polls show that Republicans hold an advantage on the economy, inflation, national security and crime, while Democrats hold an advantage on LGBTQ rights, climate change, abortion, voting rights and education.
There is no compelling evidence in these polls to suggest that immigration is poised to be a decisive issue that swings elections against Democrats in 2022.
This is not to suggest that Democrats are in good shape on immigration as a 2022 issue. They have disappointed many progressives by their inability to enact immigration reform. And their failure to drive a consistent and coherent message on immigration has ceded the debate to the bad faith actors from the far-right and the GOP mainstream.
But consider the information environment in the past few weeks and in the past year: Fox and GOPers screaming on a daily basis that we are experiencing a so-called “Biden border crisis” that constitutes an “invasion” that amounts to a Democratic plot aimed at “replacing” white voters with voters of color; the Biden administration, for reasons that still escape us, decided to go silent on immigration, proving, once again, that you can’t win a debate you don’t engage; and most Democrats – except for outspoken Democratic champions in the House and in the Senate – followed the administration’s descent into silence – until the CDC announced that public health does not justify the continuation of a public health measure.
Well, last week the Biden administration finally rolled out a detailed plan. DHS Secretary Ali Mayorkas appeared before Congress in three hearings. He went on television to explain and defend the plan. Democrats on Capitol Hill began aggressively fighting back.
It’s about time. Advocates have been making this case for the past year. And it appears we were not alone. In today’s New York Times, it was reported that Biden pollster John Anzalone told the White House last year that, “voters do not feel he has a plan to address the situation on the border.”
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
Welcoming immigrants and refugees remains popular with the American people. Three-quarters of Americans support immigration as a good thing, and 70% of the public support citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
But voters do want to be reassured that there are plans and solutions to process those seeking refugee status at our borders in an orderly manner. They want an approach that balances order and justice, that integrates compassion and controls, that stands up a system that works and a system that reflects our interests and values. That is what Democrats stand for – if and when they lean into the issue.
It’s time for nervous Democrats to reach the voters available to them with a stand that comports with their views. It’s time for those covering and commenting on this debate to stop hyping the electoral implications of this issue unless and until there is strong evidence for the assertion.