Analysis | Democrats’ border problem is getting real

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Panicky Democrats don’t need anything else to fret about ahead of the 2024 election. But high on the list of things that probably should register for them right now is the southern border.

That’s because the pro-immigration moment that Donald Trump rather unwittingly ushered in appears to be coming to a close. Even the Democratic base is concerned.

Remarkable polling results came out of New York on Monday. Even Democrats in this Siena College poll are saying things that sound somewhat reminiscent of the views of immigration hawks in the GOP:

  • Nearly as many New York Democrats said migrants coming to the state over the past 20 years have been a “burden” (35 percent) as said they have been a “benefit” (37 percent).
  • 75 percent of New York Democrats said the recent influx of migrants to the state was at least a “somewhat serious” problem. Nearly half (47 percent) said it was a “very serious” problem.
  • 53 percent of New York Democrats agreed with the statement that “New Yorkers have already done enough for new migrants and should now work to slow the flow of migrants to New York.” (The alternative was that the state should “accept new migrants and work to assimilate them into New York,” a position with which 41 percent of the Democratic respondents agreed.)

This is just one state, and it has experienced a migrant surge unlike virtually any other state not on the southern border.

But it’s hardly the only evidence that the Democratic base and the country are shifting in a more concerned and immigration-skeptical direction — and in a particularly troublesome way for President Biden and his party.

A Fox News poll this month showed that a majority of Democrats were at least “very” concerned about border security. And last month, the same pollster showed three-quarters of Democrats describing the situation at the southern border as either an “emergency” or a “major problem.” That’s double the 37 percent saying the same in early 2019.

Quinnipiac University polling this month showed 71 percent of independents and 30 percent of Democrats disapproved of Biden’s handling of immigration.

America’s pro-immigration moment wanes

Another Fox News poll last week showed voters favored Republicans on border security more than they did on any other issue, 59 percent to 35 percent. Even 22 percent of Democrats favored the GOP on the issue — the most crossover support among more than a dozen issues tested.

NBC News polling in September echoed that, showing Republicans stretching their advantage on immigration to 18 points.

Both are at least tied for the biggest GOP advantage on the issue since 2006.

That last one in particular shows how drastically this issue has shifted; in fact, NBC polling showed Democrats had held an edge on immigration throughout Trump’s presidency.

But we’re in a very different place now. And perhaps no issue demonstrates that like the issue of the border wall.

Every recent president has promised immigration reform yet the problems remain, causing border security to become a flashpoint on the campaign trail. (Video: Whitney Leaming, Jorge Ribas, Julia Wall/The Washington Post)

Although the percentage of those supporting the building of the wall was mired in the 30s for much of Trump’s presidency, recent polls show it suddenly hitting majority support — 52-44 in the Quinnipiac poll and 57-40 in the Fox poll (including 27 percent of Democrats).

A Quinnipiac poll in early 2021 showed a majority of Americans approved of Biden halting construction of the wall. Quinnipiac’s polling during the Trump administration showed 6 in 10 Americans doubted the border wall actually would reduce crime or the flow of illegal drugs. Yet both polls suddenly find more support for the wall than at any point since at least the 2016 campaign.

Support for building the border wall was depressed during Trump’s presidency — a victim of his polarization of many issues. And there have been times in the 2000s and early 2010s when around half of Americans supported it. But it’s rare to see multiple polls showing majority support, including as much as 57 percent in the Fox poll.

We’ve begun to see some Democratic leaders raising concerns about immigration. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has sharply criticized the federal government’s handling of the issue and has demanded more help for his state. So have the Democratic mayors of Chicago, New York and other large cities.

The Biden administration recently pressed forward with building the border wall, despite Biden himself having promised not to build any more and continuing to say a wall is ineffective. The administration defended the move by saying it had to do what it did because of how Congress appropriated money. The decision was greeted with plenty of pushback from fellow Democrats and immigrant advocates.

Judging by these numbers, the wall is not the only potentially arduous immigration challenge Biden and his party will face.

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