We finally have a decent number of polls testing support for the Trump administration’s policy of separating parents from their children at the border. As of early Tuesday, four pollsters — CBS News, CNN, Quinnipiac and IPSOS — had released surveys; they found that about two-thirds of the American public oppose the policy, on average.
Each poll asked about the policy in a slightly different way. For example, two of the polls reference the Trump administration, the other two do not. Additionally, the polls provide different information about the rationale behind the policy. But they all found pretty similar results: Support levels are substantially lower than President Trump’s approval rating, suggesting even some voters who like Trump’s performance overall dislike this.
Unsurprisingly, all the polls also found a partisan split. Democrats are overwhelmingly opposed, and Republicans are split, with about half in favor and the other half split between opposing the policy and being unsure.
The fact that the separation policy has plurality support among GOP respondents in several polls has gotten a lot of attention. But in the partisan era in which we live, it’s noteworthy that Trump’s policy has only about half of Republicans on board.
And overall, compared to polling on other immigration-related policies, support for separating families is quite low. Of course, there are popular immigration proposals; policies aimed at protecting people from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, for example, are supported by upwards of 80 percent of Americans. But separating families polls even worse than the most partisan immigration policies. Erecting a border wall, for instance, although it’s a deeply partisan proposal, has regularly been found to have between 35 and 40 percent support among the public as a whole, including in surveys by some of these same pollsters. Proposals such as cutting funds to “sanctuary cities” and forcing them to comply with federal anti-immigration efforts have also polled at over 40 percent support.
It is no surprise then, that the administration is looking to distance itself from the issue. The separations, which became much more common after a “zero-tolerance” policy was announced by the Justice Department in April, were intended to deter families from attempting to cross the border, according to previous statements from White House chief of staff John Kelly, who was previously the secretary of Homeland Security; government documents obtained by CNN reflect the same sentiment. On Monday however, Kelly’s successor at Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, reframed the policy as merely a side effect of enforcing existing laws passed by Congress. According to the CBS News poll, among those who found the policy acceptable, 61 percent were more inclined to believe that separation was just an unfortunate consequence of the legal process rather than a measure needed to deter others. Trump has also tried redirecting criticism to Congress, insisting that he hates seeing children being taken away from their parents as he blamed Democrats — who do not control either legislative chamber — for not changing the laws.
A YouGov poll from early June also found that when presented with multiple policy choices for dealing with families that are caught attempting to cross the border illegally, majorities of Democrats and Republicans preferred the solutions that did not involve separating families.