The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Two-thirds of Americans oppose Trump’s family-separation policy

A view inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facility shows children at Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center in Rio Grande City, Tex., June 17, 2018. (Courtesy CBP/Handout via REUTERS)

This article has been updated.

President Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents if the parents are apprehended crossing the border illegally is meant to be unpopular. The goal, as articulated publicly by administration officials, is deterrence: Frightening potential migrants away from entering the country out of fear that they will have their children taken away from them, perhaps permanently.

A new poll from Quinnipiac University, though, shows that the policy is also unpopular among Americans — with one big exception.

Two-thirds of the country, 66 percent, oppose Trump’s policy, according to the poll. That includes 6 in 10 men and 7 in 10 women.

As is often the case, though, there’s a wide split by party. A majority of Republicans approve of the policy, while 6 in 10 independents and 9 in 10 Democrats oppose it.

Republicans are the only group broken out in Quinnipiac’s polling to support the policy. But other demographic groups that are central to Trump’s base show stronger support for the move. Whites without college degrees, for example, are 11 points more likely to support it than whites with degrees. White men are 13 points more likely to support it than white women. (The overall gap between men and women is 10 points, not statistically different than the gender gap among whites.)

Put another way, the net view of the policy overall is minus-39, with Republicans at plus-20 — 20 percentage points more likely to support it than to oppose. Among independents, the net margin is minus-44 and among Democrats, minus-84. That’s a 104-point difference between Republicans and Democrats.

We’ve seen this dynamic before in the Trump administration — often. Republicans broadly like Trump. Independents lean against him. Democrats hate him. That’s reflected in the polling on other immigration issues Quinnipiac asked about in this survey, such as Trump’s border wall: Republicans love it; independents lean against; Democrats hate it.

The difference, of course, is that the policy at issue isn’t partisan in the way that a presidency is. Nonetheless, public perception to a large extent treats it that way.

It will be interesting to see how the conflicting arguments of the Trump administration affect these numbers. Trump has argued that he hates the policy and is mandated to follow it by laws that “the Democrats gave us,” which isn’t true. If the policy continues, will it grow even more unpopular with Republicans who see it as the Democrats’ fault (which it isn’t) or will support grow because it is Trump’s policy?

Update: On Monday afternoon, CNN released its own poll on the same question. Overall, the figures were similar to Quinnipiac’s result.

CNN’s poll, though, included an important additional bit of data: How views of the policy overlapped with views of Trump. A majority of those who approve of Trump support his policy, more so than Republicans in general. Interestingly, though, over a quarter of those who approve of Trump disapprove of his family separation policy. That’s a surprisingly high percentage, given that only 11 percent of those who approve of Trump disapprove of his handling of immigration overall, according to the same poll.

For a president who focuses on support from his base more than any other group, that could be significant.