By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s popularity was near the lowest level of his presidency this month as Americans’ concerns over immigration rose to their highest level since 2019, before he took office, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.
The three-day opinion poll, which ended on Sunday, showed 40% of respondents approved of Biden’s performance as president, down marginally from 42% a month earlier. The poll had a margin of error of about three percentage points.
While the economy is the perennial top concern among U.S. voters, in October the share of poll respondents who rated “immigration” the No. 1 problem rose to 14% from 8% in September.
That was the highest measure of concern about immigration since December 2019, when 15% of respondents cited it as their top concern.
A larger share – 19% – said the economy was the top concern, down from 23% in September. By comparison, 11% cited crime and 7% cited the environment.
Concerns among Republicans over immigration grew the most, a sign the issue could become a rallying cry for the party in the 2024 presidential contest when Biden, a Democrat, is seeking re-election.
Republicans – including former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for his party’s nomination – have persistently criticized Biden for failing to stave off crossings from Mexico.
Trump, who was U.S. president from 2017-2021, has pledged to do more to stem illegal immigration if voters return him to the White House.
Trump has led supporters to chant “build the wall” at his rallies and in a recent interview with The National Pulse, a right-leaning website, Trump said illegal immigrants were “poisoning the blood of the country,” language that Trump’s critics decried as racist.
A separate Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in September found that a majority of Americans – 54% – agreed with the statement that “immigration is making life harder for native-born Americans.” Some 73% of Republicans and 37% of Democrats surveyed agreed with that statement.
The Republican focus on immigration does not necessarily portend winning at the ballot box. When concerns over immigration also ran high in 2018 and Republican politicians pledged tough measures to thwart border crossings, Democrats nonetheless seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives in that year’s elections.
Biden’s administration has struggled with a record number of migrant crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border that hit new highs in September, putting a strain on U.S. cities at the border and further north.
The administration said last week it will add sections to a wall on the southern border to stave off migrant crossings, carrying forward one of the signature policies of Trump’s presidency. One of Biden’s first actions after taking office in January 2021 was to issue a proclamation pledging that “no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall.”
The administration said it did not deviate from Biden’s proclamation because money that was allocated during Trump’s term in 2019 had to be spent now.
Biden’s public approval rating has held below 50% since August 2021, and this month’s rating was close to the lowest levels of his presidency – 36% – seen in mid-2022.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll gathered responses online from 1,029 adults, using a nationally representative sample.
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)