A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that President Biden’s overall job-approval rating has held steady — or even improved slightly — in recent weeks. Yet the same survey also found that on one specific issue, Biden’s numbers have never been worse.
That issue is immigration.
Just 31% of Americans now approve of how Biden is handling immigration — a new low. As recently as October, his approval on the issue was 35%; in previous Yahoo News/YouGov polls, it never slipped below 33%. Meanwhile, the share of Americans who disapprove of the president’s approach to immigration (55%) is higher than ever before, putting him underwater by 24 percentage points.
Across all 10 issues tested — including inflation, crime and the economy — immigration is now the most negative for Biden.
The survey of 1,538 U.S. adults, conducted from Jan. 12 to 16, reveals America’s complicated (and often contradictory) feelings about immigration as the numbers of migrants apprehended along the southern border have reached record highs.
More than two-thirds of Americans, for instance, see "the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border" as either "a state of crisis" (41%) or "a major problem but not a crisis" (29%). Fewer say the situation is just a "minor problem" (13%), while only 4% say it is "not a problem.” Thirteen percent are unsure.
Predictably, Republicans are far more likely to judge the border situation as a "crisis" (67%) than independents (45%) or Democrats (22%). Likewise, a full 79% of 2020 Donald Trump voters say the situation is a crisis.
When “crisis” and “major problem” responses are combined, however, a clear consensus emerges, with 68% of Democrats, 69% of 2020 Biden voters, 70% of independents, 84% of Republicans and 90% of 2020 Trump voters all agreeing that the border is at least a major problem.
And while Republicans are more convinced that conditions have gotten worse (73%) rather than better (10%) since Biden took office, less than a quarter of Democrats (23%) say the situation has improved. More than 6 in 10 say it has either gotten worse (22%) or stayed the same (39%).
That means that on the whole, just 13% of Americans believe the border situation has improved under Biden.
Immigration has presented a unique political challenge for Biden since the start of his presidency, with his administration’s approach to issues at the southern border garnering criticism from both the left and the right.
While Republicans have cited the influx of migrants to the southern border as proof of the Biden administration’s failed policies, progressives and immigration advocates have criticized the administration’s continued use of Title 42, an emergency public health order. Title 42 was initially invoked by the Trump administration, ostensibly to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic.
U.S. and international laws require that anyone who expresses a credible fear of returning to their home country be given the chance to seek asylum in the United States, regardless of how they got into the country. But under Title 42, immigration officials have been able to circumvent the regular legal processes for asylum seekers and quickly expel migrants encountered at the southern border, including many who might otherwise have been eligible for humanitarian protections.
While Americans are plainly displeased by such developments, the politics of immigration going forward aren’t as clear-cut. A 54% majority, for instance, may say Biden deserves some (21%) or most (33%) of the blame for the current border situation. Yet even larger majorities say the same about Congress (61%) and the leaders of the countries that migrants are leaving (70%).
Similarly, most Americans recognize the complex forces at work here. Asked "why migrants are attempting to cross the U.S. border with Mexico," 43% say it is "to take advantage of President Biden's immigration policies” — but far more say it is to "escape violence" (54%) or "poverty" (63%) and to “find work” (58%). Most Americans also think the process for “people fleeing persecution in their home country to seek asylum in the United States" should be either “easier” (28%) or “about the same” (22%); just 34% think it should be harder.
And while 43% favor and 39% oppose "building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border” to address the problems there, even more support "providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S." (47% favor, 34% oppose) or "providing a pathway to citizenship for 'dreamers' who were brought to the U.S. as children" (60% favor, 22% oppose).
For Biden, these nuances may suggest a way forward on what has become his weakest issue.
On Jan. 5, the president unveiled a new plan to curb migration to the southern border that involves granting temporary humanitarian parole to 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, while expanding the use of Title 42 to crack down on those who attempt to cross the border without prior authorization.
The plan was seen as part of a deliberate shift by Biden to the center of the political spectrum as he prepares to run for reelection in 2024.
Biden's new parole policy did little to satisfy his most vocal critics on the left and right. But in the new poll, Yahoo News and YouGov provided respondents with a detailed description of the plan, explaining that in an effort to “give asylum seekers an incentive to apply for legal immigration from their home countries,” the president had recently announced that “up to 30,000” of them “a month from four nations — Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti — could be granted ‘parole’ to live and work in the United States for two years.” (The question also noted that such asylum seekers will have to “enter the country through a legitimate port of entry and pass rigorous vetting.”)
In response, 46% of Americans say they favor the new parole policy; just 30% say they oppose it.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,538 U.S. adults interviewed online from Jan. 12 to 16, 2023. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (32% Democratic, 27% Republican). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.