Americans overwhelmingly oppose the Trump administration’s now-rescinded policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, and smaller majorities also disagree with the president’s call to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and to restrict legal immigration by limiting citizens from bringing parents and siblings to this country, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll.
On other aspects of the immigration debate, however, a more mixed picture emerges. Americans are more closely divided on the question of whether enough is being done to prevent illegal immigration and whether the country has gone too far in welcoming immigrants. Also, more people say they trust President Trump than congressional Democrats to deal with the issue of border security. The support for Trump on the border-security issue is especially evident in congressional districts considered key battlegrounds in this fall’s midterm elections.
Democrats appear more energized than Republicans about the fall elections, especially in battleground districts. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independent voters in those districts, 59 percent say the midterms are extremely important, compared with 46 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Overall, registered voters say they prefer to vote for a Democrat over a Republican for the House, 47 percent to 37 percent. The margin on that question is not statistically larger in battleground districts, standing at 12 percentage points.
The nation remains deeply divided along party lines, as it has been throughout and before Trump’s presidency. Two other divisions define the political environment of 2018. On issues of immigration, as well as questions about Trump’s presidency, the gaps between men and women and between white voters with and without college degrees are sizable. Women and white college-educated voters are far more dissatisfied with the president and his policies than are men and white voters without college educations. However, gaps based on education are less significant in battleground districts.
Trump’s overall approval stands at 43 percent, while his disapproval is 55 percent. Among men, 54 percent approve; among women, 32 percent approve.
His handling of immigration draws slightly higher disapproval, with 39 percent approving and 59 percent disapproving. More than twice as many say they strongly disapprove as say they strongly approve. Among men, 51 percent disapprove, but among women, 67 percent disapprove. Among whites with college educations, 68 percent disapprove, but among non-college whites, 56 percent approve.
Trump’s best numbers come on the economy: 50 percent approve, while 48 percent disapprove. Majorities nationally and in both battleground and non-battleground districts rate the economy as excellent or good. Men are far more positive than women — 26 points more likely to approve of his handling of the economy and 13 points more likely to rate the economy positively.
On trade issues, the public sides with the president on one key question: whether the United States’ long-term trading partners have taken advantage of this country. By 52 percent to 43 percent, Americans agree with Trump rather than saying the nation’s partners trade fairly. In battleground districts, the margin is slightly larger.
But even in agreeing with the president on that question, Americans show little support for his aggressive trade policies, such as his calls for tariffs on a variety of products that have rattled financial markets and angered U.S. allies.
Barely 4 in 10 Americans, 41 percent, approve overall of Trump’s handling of the trade issue. On two other questions — how his trade policies will affect jobs in the United States and the cost of products here — majorities of Americans say the impact will be bad rather than good, and nearly 3 in 4 say the impact on the cost of products will be bad.
The survey, sponsored by The Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, was conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago between June 27 and July 2 online and by phone. The survey drew from the firm’s probability-design AmeriSpeak panel, interviewing a total of 1,473 adults, including 865 who live in one of 58 congressional districts classified by the Cook Political Report as “toss-up” or “leaning” toward one party.
The survey looked at a variety of aspects of the immigration debate, which has been front and center since the outcry over the separation of immigrant children from parents who were detained after coming across the border.
On immigration, almost 7 in 10 (69 percent) say they opposed the policy that separated immigrant children from their parents, compared with 29 percent who supported the policy. About 6 in 10 Republicans supported it.
Trump’s decision to reverse the policy drew widespread support, with three-quarters of Americans backing that decision. Asked about what to do now, a majority of Americans say they want families detained together rather than temporarily released until their court appearances and possible deportation.
The vivid imagery of the children contributed to the backlash that forced Trump to reverse course. About 3 in 4 say they were bothered by the photos and stories about children being held separately from their parents, and nearly half of all Americans — including 6 in 10 women — said they were bothered a lot.
But as to who is to blame for families being separated, the public is more divided, with 37 percent saying the Trump administration bears responsibility, 35 percent saying the blame goes to migrant families trying to enter the United States and 25 percent saying both are equally to blame. A 41 percent plurality of women blame the Trump administration, while a 43 percent plurality of men blame migrants.
Trump’s suggestion that U.S. immigration policy has become a magnet for criminals and gang members is rejected by most Americans. Roughly 4 in 10 say the biggest reason most people enter illegally is to flee danger in their own countries, with another 4 in 10 saying they are drawn because of economic opportunities. Just 6 percent nationally say most people enter as part of the drug trade or gangs.
A plurality of Americans (48 percent) say that this country’s history of welcoming immigrants has been mainly good, while 4 in 10 say it has been both good and bad, and 11 percent say it has been mainly bad. As to whether immigration has gone too far, Americans are divided into three almost equal groups, with about a third saying it has gone too far, a third saying it has not gone far enough, and almost a third saying the right balance has been struck.
A bare majority (51 percent) say the United States is doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from coming into the country, compared with 46 percent who do not. But that bare majority who feel enough is being done is considerably higher than it was during the first decade of this century. The overall results mask deep differences between the parties, with 2 in 3 Democrats saying enough is being done, while just 1 in 3 Republicans agree.
Of the different policies measured in this poll, large majorities of Americans support allowing young immigrants who arrived as children and met certain requirements to remain (84 percent); a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants living here if they pass a background check (81 percent); requiring employers to verify their hires are in the United States legally (78 percent); and more funding for border security (65 percent). Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents agree with those policies.
On the policies that Americans oppose — the child-separation policy, building the border wall and restricting legal immigration — majorities of Republicans favor them, in contrast to majorities of Democrats and independents who oppose them.
More broadly, Democrats in Congress lead Trump when it comes to whom voters trust to handle immigration by a 38 percent to 30 percent margin, with 24 percent trusting neither. But on border security, Trump holds a 10-point edge over Democrats, which balloons to 17 points in congressional battleground districts.
Immigration is seen by voters as one of the three most important issues in this fall’s congressional elections, along with jobs and the economy, and health care. Immigration is cited by 19 percent of voters, jobs and the economy by 24 percent, and health care by 20 percent. Republicans hold a narrow 47 percent to 40 percent advantage in support among immigration-focused voters; that finding suggests this could be an issue that motivates the GOP base in November.
Gun laws, which some Democrats hope will motivate their voters in November, rank fourth at 14 percent, while taxes, an issue the GOP is counting on — along with the economy — to prevent substantial losses rank fifth at 8 percent.
As with immigration policy, there were clear partisan differences: Among Democrats, the top three issues are health care, guns and the economy. Republicans rank immigration and the economy in a virtual tie at the top, with health care, taxes and guns bunched together but far behind the top two.
The survey also asked about other aspects of the Trump presidency. More people say they will vote in November to show opposition to Trump (37 percent) than say they will be trying to show support for him (25 percent), while 36 percent say he will not be a factor.
Asked whether Republican candidates in general are too supportive or too critical of the president, voters say, 51 percent to 21 percent, that the GOP candidates have been too supportive, with the remainder saying the candidates are striking the right balance. Almost half say Democrats running for Congress are too critical of Trump — and that rises to a slight majority in battleground districts.
Two in 3 Americans say the president tells the truth only some of the time or hardly ever, a finding consistent across battleground and non-battleground districts. More than one-third of all Americans say he hardly ever tells the truth.
Nearly half of all Americans (48 percent) say that, regardless of their personal feelings about the president, they think he is doing more to damage important values. Not quite 4 in 10 (37 percent) say he is doing more to protect those values.
The nation is closely divided in its view of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government. Currently, 49 percent approve of the way special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is handling the investigation, while 45 percent disapprove.
Those divisions extend to the question of whether Trump campaign officials colluded with the Russians. The percentages saying that this is a serious issue and that it is more of a distraction are identical — 48 percent apiece. But the responses on all of the Mueller questions were highly partisan, with strong majorities of Democrats supporting the special counsel and the investigation and equally strong percentages of Republicans opposing them.
The margin of sampling error for overall survey results is plus or minus five percentage points.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.