Percentage of people viewing illegal immigration as a major problem surges

AP Photo/Gregory Bull

As we approach the end of President Joe Biden’s first hundred days in office, the usual suspects in the polling industry are checking his approval rating and contrasting it with his predecessors as one would expect. Pew Research (never exactly a MAGA-friendly outfit on the best of days) published their latest update this week and the results are… complicated to say the least. If all you bothered to read was the headline and the first couple of paragraphs, you’d likely come away with the impression that Status Quo Joe is breezing along smoothly and all is well in the kingdom.

Biden is described as having a “strong” approval rating, coming in at 59%, which is admittedly quite good. (Only Obama and Reagan ranked higher at the same point in their presidencies.) He also receives high marks from the public for his handling of “managing the manufacture and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” coming in at 72%. I suppose we can ignore for now the fact that aside from some extended test trials, all of the vaccines currently in the pipeline were developed before he took office. Also, aside from dividing up shipment batches from the manufacturers to the states and cities, all of the distribution decisions are made at the state level and below. But hey… let him bask in that high number for now.

But if you read further into the poll results, requiring a fair bit of scrolling down, there are some poison pills buried in this report that might spoil Biden’s digestion of this gift. First of all, while Biden’s overall job approval number being in the 50s is a positive, he’s clearly benefitting from the anti-Trump hangover that’s still coloring the opinions of those who primarily voted against Trump rather than for Biden. This is reflected in the survey question where Biden receives equally strong marks for “the way Biden conducts himself” as well as how he is perceived as having “changed the tone of political debate for the better.”

Those are just general perceptions of Biden’s personality of behavior. But when it comes to how much people agree with Biden on specific policy issues, it turns out he’s barely doing better than Trump was one year earlier.

However, the share of the public saying they agree with Biden on important issues is little different from the share saying that about Trump last year. Fewer than half of Americans (44%) say they agree with Biden on all or nearly all (13%) or on many (31%) of the important issues facing the country; 25% say they agree with Biden on a few issues, while 29% say they agree with him on almost no issues. Last year, 42% of Americans said they agreed with Trump on nearly all (19%) or many issues (23%).

On economic policies, well below half of respondents say that Uncle Joe’s policies are making the economy stronger than it was under Trump. Conversely, a combined 56% say that Biden’s policies are either making the economy weaker or “not making much of a difference.” Not exactly a rousing chorus of support there. But the buried headline in this report comes with the fact that more people now view illegal immigration as a bigger problem than the pandemic.

The survey finds that, for the most part, the public’s views of major problems facing the U.S. are little changed from about a year ago. However, the share of Americans saying the coronavirus is a very big problem has declined 11 percentage points since last June (from 58% to 47%), while the share citing illegal immigration has increased 20 points (from 28% to 48%).

While views of most national problems are divided along partisan lines, including illegal immigration, increasing shares of both Republicans and Democrats rate illegal immigration as a very big problem. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (72%) say illegal immigration is a major problem, up 29 points since last June. The share of Democrats who say this is a major problem is now 29%, compared with 15% nearly a year ago.

There was no question specific to the border crisis (go figure), but that was the one question where the nation’s concerns over the disaster unfolding on the Mexican border is obviously showing up. You might expect that the plague would still be the biggest worry on people’s minds, and it’s important for Biden to keep that trend going because he’s framed most of his initial self-marketing on being “the competent guy” that was going to lead us out of the pandemic. But with the vaccines going into more and more arms on a daily basis, people are clearly moving toward a desire for a sense of normalcy while simultaneously having more time to pay attention to other matters. And near the top of that list of “other things” is the crisis at the border. Biden’s marks on that should rightly be in the basement and we’ve already seen that he’s well underwater on that issue in previous polls. That reality is showing up in Pew’s numbers as well, and you probably shouldn’t expect it to change any time soon.