President Joe Biden and his administration may have found their weak spot, as more Americans disapprove than approve of how the president is handling the influx of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a new poll.
The poll, conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found that just 42 percent approve of Biden’s management of immigration overall, while 44 percent approve of his handling of border security. Those figures fall short of his approval ratings on other hot button issues like his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare and the economy.
His overall approval rating as president is also significantly higher than those percentages, which stands at 61 percent, the poll reported.
The poll also revealed a starkly partisan divide on Biden’s handling of immigration and border security, as just 10 percent of Republicans approve of the president’s handling of immigration, while 30 percent of independents and 74 percent of Democrats said the same. When asked about Biden’s management of border security, just 14 percent of Republicans approved, while 34 percent of independents and 74 percent of Democrats said the same.
The results of the poll, however, also showed unity in public opinion among Americans’ highest immigration priorities, as 65 percent of respondents said that reuniting parents and children who were separated at the border should be a high priority for the federal government and 59 percent said the same about providing safe treatment of unaccompanied minors at the border.
Other top immigration-related issues that respondents said should be a high priority are: increasing security at the U.S.-Mexico border, strengthening policies to prevent immigrants from overstaying their visas and providing a way for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay.
The poll comes as the Biden administration attempts to mitigate the near-record numbers of migrants coming to the border, especially unaccompanied children. Vice President Kamala Harris has been under particular scrutiny from colleagues on the other side of the aisle, as Biden tasked her with solving the roots of the crisis at the southern border. But Harris has yet to visit the border or hold a meeting on the matter.
Although the Biden administration has seen several victories since taking office including its $1.9 trillion rescue package and swift vaccine rollout, in addition to hopes of a recovering economy, the issue at the border has dented the president’s success in the White House, which will likely be a key talking point in next year’s midterm election.
“The more the border gets out of control the more the [Democrats] will want to get it out of the headlines. It’s particularly sensitive for them since they’ve positioned themselves as the party of new immigrants. It plays to the immigration fears in the U.S., and also to sense that Democrats are not particularly competent on complicated issues, like the ObamaCare roll-out, sanctuary cities, or management of big cities in the Northeast and California,” said Paul Bracken, a management and political science professor at Yale University.
If the Biden administration calms the coronavirus and restores the economy by the 2022 midterm election, then Republicans will likely pivot to the White House’s poor handling of the migrants at the border, an issue that appears to be a rising concern for Americans.
“The Republicans will use any issue they can against the Democrats. It's an issue the Democrats are now most vulnerable on, and it will continue to be such an issue unless the Biden administration gets the situation under control,” Robert Y. Shapiro, a professor and former chair at Columbia University’s political science department, said.
Shapiro added, “It is a very important issue for the Trump base in the GOP as we have seen over the past five years. And the heightening crisis on the border can be connected directly to Biden replacing Trump as president.”
Former President Donald Trump blasted Biden’s reversal of key Trump-era immigration policies in an interview with Fox News, arguing that the surge of migrants at the border is “going to destroy our country.” The former president also said that he will probably visit the southern border over the next few weeks, a move Biden has not made.
Experts, however, noted that the issue at the border might be alleviated come next year’s election.
“If the election were held today, the border crisis would loom as a significant electoral problem for Democrats and the Biden administration. But conditions on the border may be more orderly closer to election day 2022. That’s what Democrats have to hope for. One can count on this issue being a major focus of GOP emphasis from now to election day 2022,” Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College in Minnesota, said.
Schier also added that the first midterm elections during a new presidency typically yield losses for the majority party.
“Keep in mind that first midterms have resulted in gains for the president’s party only three times in the last 150 years,” Schier said. “So, historically speaking, the 2022 elections are challenging for Democrats.”
Even if the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border is under control, Democrats will still be in the hot seat in next year’s election, with Republicans highlighting all major issues that they have misstepped since Biden took office.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.