Immigration Emerges as a Top Issue in the Upcoming Election

This could well be known among future historians as the Immigration Election.

The issue has overtaken all others as the top concern among voters, both in national polls and among those in the handful of states that are truly competitive battlegrounds. And among the up-for-grabs voters, President Joe Biden is at a pronounced disadvantage, according to new surveys released this week. As fears of migrant crime and overwhelmed communities dominate the zeitgeist in parts of this very divided country, former President Donald Trump finds himself better positioned.

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday released a massive set of from seven swing states and found very few reasons for Team Biden to feel upbeat. The Democratic coalition is visibly fraying, with substantial bleeding among Black and Latino voters, and younger voters. The gender gap, too, is a more suspicious audience among men in those swing states.

Biden’s biggest ? The . As the number of people detained by U.S. border patrol has soared—most of them rather than being apprehended—surveys now immigration and border security as the most important topic that will the outcome of Election Day, topping the improving post-pandemic economy.

This, of course, didn’t just happen overnight. Trump has steadily banged the drum on immigration dating to his first days as a candidate in 2015, seeking to sow fear by linking migration and crime, desipte native-born Americans actually having higher rates of crime. Hardly a day goes by when Trump isn’t lashing out at migrants who come into the United States illegally. In February, about 140,000 did so, according to officials, and Trump has been all too happy to cite those newcomers, often in dehumanizing terms, as an explanation for all that ails America.

“They’re not humans. They’re animals,” Trump this week in Michigan.

Biden’s boosters rightly argue that while Trump may have advantages in six of the seven states’ polls, the former President is statistically leading in just two given the surveys’ margin of error. In fact, North Carolina and Arizona are the only places where Trump’s numbers are outside of the gray area, while Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin remain plausible toss-ups.

While immigrations has influenced the outcome of past elections, it could be uniquely determinative in 2024. And the fact remains that a majority of voters simply do not trust Biden’s approach to immigration and the border and, at least in those states, are looking at Trump’s tough-guy image as a viable alternative. By a margin of roughly 20 points, voters in those swing states give Trump the advantage on the issue. And it’s not just limited to immigration, either; Trump is notably ahead when voters are asked about inflation, the economy, mental and physical fitness to hold office, and to lesser degrees foreign policy. Only when voters are asked about abortion and broader threats to democracy does Biden rebound.

Still, immigration remains a top issue—if not the most important topic—in this campaign. And when voters are asked to grade Biden’s handling, it’s a big red F; at least 72% of those polled in the swing states are saying immigration and border policies are going the wrong way. Put another way: Biden is flunking on the topic that is, at least in this moment, defining this election year.

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