Where the public is on immigration

Below are five charts showing the history and politics of immigration over the past few years.

The author(s)
  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Sarah Feldman Senior Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
  • Bernard Mendez Data Journalist
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With Title 42 set to expire next week, immigration is yet again at the center of the news cycle—bad news for the Biden administration.

Title 42, enacted as a pandemic-era public health measure during the Trump administration, allowed the U.S. to reject immigrants seeking asylum at the border. Now that it’s expiring, it may be more difficult for the U.S. to reject immigrants at the border. Ahead of that, the Biden administration and border cities alike are bracing for a surge of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Given the partisan nature of the immigration debate in the U.S. and Biden’s weakness on the issue in the eyes of the public, the next few weeks may be difficult for his administration and his aspirations for 2024. This is a partisan issue Republicans capitalize on for their base, even though the rest of Americans aren’t as concerned right now. Immigration is a prince-maker for Republicans, but not a king-maker in general.

Below are five charts showing the history and politics of immigration over the past few years.

  1. Migration Rebound. The tumultuousness of the past decade has shuffled migration trends. Throughout the 2010s, net migration rose steadily, then dropped during the Trump presidency. The pandemic brought net migration to its lowest level in decades. In just a year, the losses of the Trump presidency and the pandemic rebounded. How will this change in the weeks ahead? We will see.Chart
  2. Immigration as an Issue. Throughout the past three years, immigration has fluctuated as a main issue for Americans, too. But don’t let the topline numbers confuse you; Republicans are much more likely to see immigration as a worry than Democrats. This is a base play for Republicans, even as most Americans aren’t tuned into this concern. As coverage of Title 42 ramps up, this may change.Chart
  3. Partisan Divergence. The current partisan dynamics on immigration wasn’t always there. In the mid-1990’s, Democrats and Republicans were aligned on some nativist sentiments around immigration. In 2009, during the Obama presidency, things began to change. Democrats moved farther away from Republicans on this position. Look at the data; the gap between Democrats and Republicans is now bigger than it’s ever been. Two Americas at play yet again.Chart
  4. Nativist Nation. Primary news source and partisanship influence nativist opinion more than other demographic characteristics. Indeed, demographics that are closely related to partisanship, like race, education, and age, also matter here. Immigration reflects the divides of the nation. The profile below mirrors our politics.Chart
  5. Politics of Immigration. Despite how immigration plays to the public’s partisan tendencies, immigration is not a winning issue for President Biden. He has a bare majority of support from his base and an abysmal level of support from Republicans and independents. Even before Title 42’s rollback, this is his weakest issue, weaker even than inflation. Immigration is our fault line. Chart

In the past few days – even though Title 42 has yet to expire – border cities have already seen a surge of immigrants hoping to get into the U.S., leading some to declare a state of emergency.

Immigration is an issue Republicans care about. GOP 2024 hopefuls will likely focus on this in the weeks ahead as they try to distinguish themselves. For the president, it may be more complicated. How the Biden administration balances its desire to remain popular in the eyes of the public with the fates of thousands of immigrants could prove consequential, especially for Biden’s hopes at reelection.  

The author(s)
  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Sarah Feldman Senior Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
  • Bernard Mendez Data Journalist

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