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The End Of Title 42 Could Be A Big Problem For Biden

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

At 11:59 p.m. on Thursday night, Title 42 — a policy dating back to the Donald Trump administration that made it easier to expel migrants from the U.S. by citing the public-health risk of COVID-19 — officially ended. Experts expect this will lead to a surge in immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border, and there are signs that it has already begun: The number of migrants crossing the border has already increased from a norm of about 6,000-7,000 per day late last year to 10,000 per day on Monday and Tuesday of this week, and the streets of many border cities are filling up with migrants seeking entry to the U.S.

President Biden’s administration has been bracing itself for Title 42’s expiration by building more facilities for migrants, making it easier for people to apply to come to the U.S. legally rather than risk an illegal border crossing and even sending 1,500 troops to the border. And politically, taking such aggressive action is probably smart: Polling suggests not only that Americans want to keep Title 42 in place, but also that another border crisis could be a political disaster for Biden.

According to a May 6-7 poll from Morning Consult, 51 percent of registered voters opposed ending Title 42, and only 37 percent supported ending it. While that’s the only recent poll we have on the subject, its findings were similar to those of a May 2022 poll from Politico/Harvard in which American adults opposed ending the program 55 percent to 45 percent.1

These numbers aren’t too surprising when you consider that a plurality of Americans thought too many immigrants were coming to the U.S. even before Title 42 expired. According to a February 2023 poll from the Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 44 percent of U.S. adults thought the number of immigrants to the U.S. should be reduced. An additional 34 percent wanted the number of immigrants to remain the same, and only 20 percent thought it should be increased. 

Of course, with everything else going on in the country, one unpopular decision may not change many people’s minds about Biden. But where the real danger lies for him is in the potential for it to create another border crisis, which could refocus the national conversation around immigration — one of Biden’s weakest issues. 

In an average of six polls taken since April 18,2 only 35 percent of Americans said they approved of Biden’s handling of the issue of immigration, while 57 percent disapproved. That issue-specific net approval rating of -22 percentage points was 13 points worse than Biden’s average overall approval rating in those same polls.

Biden’s approval ratings on immigration are especially low

President Biden’s job approval ratings overall and on immigration specifically, in polls that have asked about both since April 18, 2023

Pollster Dates Overall On immigration Difference
Harris/Harvard April 18-19 -11 -15 -4
Fox News April 21-24 -11 -25 -14
Echelon Insights April 25-27 -13 -21 -8
Ipsos/Reuters May 5-7 -14 -34 -20
YouGov/Yahoo News May 5-8 -5 -20 -15
YouGov/The Economist May 6-9 2 -15 -17
Average -9 -22 -13

The Reuters, Yahoo News and The Economist polls are among adults; the Harris and Fox News polls are among registered voters; and the Echelon Insights poll is among likely voters.

Source: Polls

According to a Morning Consult poll from March, 47 percent of registered voters also felt that the U.S. immigration system had gotten worse under Biden’s presidency, while only 20 percent thought it had gotten better (24 percent said it had stayed the same).

In other words, if immigration becomes a major issue during the 2024 presidential campaign, that’s bad news for Biden. Immigration is an issue that animates Republicans a lot more than Democrats: In a November 2022 poll from FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, 34 percent of Republicans named immigration as one of the top issues facing the country (making it their second-highest priority, after inflation) — but only 7 percent of Democrats did. Furthermore, in the aforementioned Morning Consult poll, registered voters said they trusted Trump more than Biden to handle immigration by 9 points — Trump’s largest advantage across 17 issues the pollster asked about.

True, there are still 18 months until the 2024 election, so there’s plenty of time for other news stories to overtake this one. But the longer that immigration is a part of the national conversation this summer, the more political damage Biden will likely sustain. So it’s little wonder his administration is emphasizing all the steps it is taking to mitigate a crisis — but only time will tell if they work.

Other polling bites

  • An ABC News/Washington Post poll from April 28-May 3 got everyone talking after it showed both Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis leading Biden by 6 points among registered voters. However, Democrats need not freak out. It’s quite possible that the poll simply scooped up a particularly Republican-leaning sample: Biden’s approval rating was an unusually low 36 percent in the poll, and few other polls have found Biden that far behind Republicans. Although ABC News/Washington Post is one of the best pollsters around, even great pollsters publish an outlier from time to time (in fact, we’d expect them to). In addition, it’s too early on the electoral calendar for general-election polls to mean very much. Generally, you should wait until after the presidential primaries are decided to pay attention.
  • Americans may finally be coming to understand what the debt ceiling finally means, after more than a decade of high-profile fights over it. A new YouGov survey explained the debt ceiling to half of its sample and then asked them their opinion on raising it, while it just asked the other half about raising it without any context. In both cases, roughly 40 percent said that the debt ceiling should be raised and roughly 40 percent said that it should not. In addition, 52 percent correctly identified the debt ceiling as a limit on the government’s borrowing to finance spending that already has been approved, while only 25 percent incorrectly said it was a limit on government spending. Compare this to a similar YouGov poll from 2013, when 42 percent said raising the debt ceiling would allow the U.S. to pay interest on its debt and for spending that it has already authorized, and 39 percent said it would directly increase government spending and debt.
  • According to an April 3-9 poll from YouGov, Democrats are much likelier than Republicans to think the media is trustworthy. YouGov asked specifically how much Americans trusted 56 different media outlets, and Democrats trusted 50 of them more than Republicans did. The only exceptions were conservative outlets: Newsmax, One America News, Fox News, The Federalist, Breitbart News and Infowars. The only non-conservative outlet that had a net trustworthy rating of greater than 20 points among Republicans was The Weather Channel. The outlet with the biggest trust gap between the two parties was CNN: Democrats trusted it by 55 points, while Republicans mistrusted it by 37 points.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,3 42.4 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 52.5 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.1 points). At this time last week, 42.7 percent approved and 52.6 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -9.9 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 42.8 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.5 percent, for a net approval rating of -9.7 points.


  1. Both polls mentioned Title 42’s original justification of stopping the spread of COVID-19, raising the possibility that people could have responded to the poll based on their opinions about whether it was needed as a public-health measure, not an immigration measure. However, this seems unlikely given how closely responses were correlated with views on immigration. For example, in the Politico/Harvard poll, adults who felt that the level of immigration should be increased supported ending Title 42, 72 percent to 28 percent. Meanwhile, adults who felt that immigration should be decreased opposed ending it, 77 percent to 23 percent.

  2. From Harris/Harvard, Beacon Research/Shaw & Company, Echelon Insights, Ipsos/Reuters, YouGov/Yahoo News and YouGov/The Economist.

  3. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.


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