GW Poll Finds Deep Partisan Splits on Immigration, Investigating President Trump

The latest GW Politics Poll found partisan splits on issues at the heart of the government shutdown and looked at how voters view potential 2020 presidential candidates.

January 16, 2019

A new edition of the George Washington University Politics Poll found contrasting top priorities for Democratic and Republican voters and deep partisan division on the importance of many issues, highlighting the difficulty of reopening the government if action depends on a bipartisan immigration compromise.

Conducted in mid-December, the poll also provided a first look at how voters view the expected field of 2020 Democratic presidential prospects.

Given a laundry list of policy issues, 1,920 poll respondents were asked whether each was a top priority for the new Congress, a low priority, not important or something that shouldn’t be done at all. Among all voters, health care was a clear primary issue—71 percent thought reducing health care costs should be a top priority and 63 percent said bolstering Medicare should be a top issue, too. About 67 percent said making Social Security financially sound should be a top issue, and about 65 percent said that strengthening the economy, generally, was a priority.

However, that consensus masked some deep partisan divides.

Immigration—at the center of the federal government shutdown—is Republicans’ and Republican-leaning Independents’ most important issue for the new Congress with 80 percent saying it should be the top priority.

Republicans also were very concerned about the situation at the border. The poll asked people how concerned they were that the group of Central American migrants at the U.S. border seeking asylum might get into the country. Among Republicans, 60 percent were very concerned and another 21 percent were somewhat concerned. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Republicans strongly favored deploying U.S. troops to the southern border to deal with this group of migrants.

“Democrats and Republicans are deeply divided not only on the caravan but on nearly every issue related to immigration that we asked about in this poll,” said Kimberly Gross, an associate professor of media and public affairs at GW. “For example, majorities of Republicans supported temporarily banning Muslims from other countries, separating undocumented parents from their children at border crossings in order to discourage others from coming and making it harder to immigrate to the U.S. legally.”

Dr. Gross said only about 10 percent of Democrats supported any of the Republican-backed immigration policies.

“And although this poll did not ask about a border wall, Democrats and Republicans differ on that, too,” she said.

Partisan Split on House Subpoenas

The latest GW poll also examined the ability of the new Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to subpoena the Trump administration. Asked whether it would be appropriate for the Trump administration to ignore subpoenas issued by the House, 60 percent of all registered voters polled thought it would be inappropriate.

However, when looking at the party affiliation of those polled, a divide emerged. Among Republicans, 40 percent said it would be appropriate for the White House to brush off Congress’ requests, with an additional 24 percent undecided on the matter. Among Democrat respondents, 82 percent said it would be inappropriate.

Democratic 2020 Field Takes Shape

The newest edition of the GW Politics Poll also found the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race seems wide open. Former Vice President Joe Biden is an early frontrunner, but many prospective candidates have smaller name recognition, potentially giving them room to alter opinion.

Mr. Biden was the only potential Democratic presidential candidate viewed favorably by more than half of those polled (51 percent favorable/42 percent unfavorable). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) split voters with 48 percent viewing him favorably and 46 percent unfavorably. Fewer voters viewed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) favorably (38 percent) than unfavorably (45 percent).

Most potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates had a relatively even split, but low rates of people rating them favorably and unfavorably because many do not know them, including Kamala Harris (31 percent favorable/33 percent unfavorable), Kirstin Gillibrand (27/29), Cory Booker (33/35), Amy Klobuchar (21/18), Julian Castro (20/23) and Beto O’Rourke (33/31).

Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg faces a challenge, with 42 percent viewing him unfavorably, and just 28 percent favorably. Anti-Trump firebrand Michael Avenatti received only 14 percent favorable responses and 46 percent unfavorable.

On the Republican side, Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, polled strongly being viewed favorably by 41 percent of respondents and unfavorably by only 28 percent.

Mr. Trump maintained a consistent public image; 43 percent of those polled viewed him favorably, while 53 percent viewed him unfavorably. Vice President Mike Pence had a similar rating (44 percent/48 percent).

The GW Politics Poll is managed jointly by GW's School of Media and Public Affairs, Graduate School of Political Management and Department of Political Science. YouGov, a respected leader in online polling, conducted the academic, nonpartisan research poll for GW. This poll was fielded Dec. 11-19, 2018, with a sample of 1,920 registered voters and a margin of error of ±2 percentage points. This is the fourth of four surveys focused on the 2018 midterm elections. The GW Politics poll interviewed these 1,920 registered voters at four points to track public views over the course of the 2018 election.


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