How Biden can meet voters where they are: Immigration, the border & foreign policy

“Biden is strongly associated with his most divisive foreign policy decisions, and voters do not see a throughline in Biden’s foreign policy approach,” said Evan Roth Smith, Blueprint’s head pollster.

Blueprint’s latest survey lays out where President Biden, former President Donald Trump, and the electorate are when it comes to foreign policy and immigration and the border, two highly salient electoral issues. The survey—which sampled 1,012 voters nationwide from Dec. 2 to Dec. 5—was conducted by YouGov and commissioned by Blueprint.

Blueprint found that:

  • Voters give double-digit advantages to Donald Trump over President Biden on foreign policy alignment, generally.
  • On immigration, asylum seekers and the border, President Biden is further than Donald Trump from the median voter. Immigration is the issue where voters place themselves closest to Donald Trump.
  • A majority of voters believe that President Biden is “more liberal” than they are on immigration, with a majority of independents placing him “far more liberal” than they are.
  • The current Ukraine and Israel aid negotiations present an opportunity for the White House to drive a narrative that matches where voters are. A majority of voters support a deal that combines border security with aid to Ukraine and Israel. When given a choice between passing aid now and addressing the border later and combining aid with the border even if it means aid may not pass, 55% of voters prefer tying aid to border policy.

“Biden is strongly associated with his most divisive foreign policy decisions, and voters do not see a throughline in Biden’s foreign policy approach,” said Evan Roth Smith, Blueprint’s head pollster. “Voters perceive Biden’s agenda as a hardheaded pursuit of raw American interests—one that is drawing us into too many conflicts around the world. If Biden can frame his same policies around keeping the peace, he may be able to find more success.”


“The current Ukraine and Israel aid negotiations offer Biden an opportunity to positively realign voter perceptions of his immigration policy,” Roth Smith continued. “When voters are presented with simple options on asylum and refugees, they support more conservative positions and view Trump as far closer to their views on immigration. But by a wide margin, voters support a deal that includes both aid to Ukraine and Israel and stricter asylum laws.”

TOP TAKEAWAYS & FINDINGS

The current Ukraine and Israel aid negotiations offer Biden an opportunity to positively realign voter perceptions of his foreign policy approach and his immigration and border policy.

A majority of voters support a deal to pair Ukraine and Israel aid with border security funding and more stringent asylum policies (34% opposed). Support for the deal is higher among Republicans (net +30) than among independents (net +9) or Democrats (net +8). When presented with a choice between passing aid now and addressing the border later and combining aid with the border even if it means aid may not pass, 55% of voters prefer tying aid to border policy (including 63% of independents).

Democrats are not aligned with the majority of voters on immigration, as they view themselves as far closer to Trump’s position than to Biden’s

56% of voters say Biden is more liberal than they are on immigration (with 42% saying “far more” liberal), while only 18% say he is more conservative. Only 25% place him as close to their views on the issue. This contrasts with Trump, who 44% of voters see as close to their views on immigration; 46% of voters say Trump is more conservative (36% “far more” conservative) than they are on the issue, and 9% say he’s more liberal.

Voters are skeptical of the status quo on asylum seekers and refugees and the border.

Voters are overwhelmingly supportive of the US reducing the number of refugees and asylum seekers it takes in (52%), with 32% in support of maintaining the current rate, and 17% supporting taking in more.

53% of voters believe rules for granting asylum or refugee status should be stricter, 33% believe they should stay about the same, and 14% believe they should be looser. Among independents, 61% support stricter and 12% support looser. Among Democrats, 26% support stricter asylum policies and 25% support looser asylum policies. Additionally, 56% of Black voters and 41% of Hispanic voters support stricter rules on asylum policies.

When voters are presented with a binary choice between increasing legal pathways to immigration and stricter asylum and border policies, they support stricter policies (61% to 39%). However, when presented with a third option to “Secure the border and limit illegal entry, but also increase pathways to legally enter the United States,” it receives 45% support—the plurality, and draws mostly from people who chose the more conservative border security option. When voters are assured the border will be secure, more of them embrace pathways to legal immigration. This is where Biden already stands on immigration, and our polling suggests he would be well served by making sure broad swaths of the electorate know his position.

Voters also think that Trump is closer to their views on foreign policy, as many are only aware of Biden’s most divisive positions.

Only 32% of voters consider Biden to be close to their views on foreign policy, and just 30% consider him close to their views on Israel-Palestine. Trump is aligned with the foreign policy views of 43% of voters (+11 over Biden) and aligned with 41% on Israel-Palestine (+11 over Biden). 52% of voters place Biden to their left on foreign policy, while 45% place Trump to their right.

Voters are most aware of Biden’s foreign policy agenda on Ukraine (86%), Afghanistan (80%), and Israel (79%), as well as rejoining the Paris Climate Accords (73%) and the WHO (70%), but these are among his least popular foreign policy accomplishments.

Key Biden foreign policy messaging opportunities lie in places where large gaps exist between high voter net support and low voter net awareness, particularly strengthening the Quad alliance (60-point gap), promoting US industry over foreign competitors (54-point gap), ending the drone war (48-point gap), launching new trade deal negotiations (42-point gap), and keeping US troops out of new conflicts (40-point gap).

Biden’s “Goldilocks” approach allows him to thread the needle on Israel-Palestine.

In a binary test of standing with Israel during its military operations in Gaza vs. pressuring Israel to stop military operations and agree to a permanent ceasefire, voters are divided, but prefer standing with Israel 56% to 44%. But when Biden’s “Goldilocks” approach of supporting Israel while pushing back against civilian casualties and advocating for a peace deal is introduced, it wins plurality support, which is more popular than either of the binary options.

Voters are struggling to identify a clear throughline in Biden’s foreign policy approach.

Voters’ perceptions of Biden’s foreign policy worldview are muddled; they struggle to identify a clear approach that describes American actions abroad based on the president’s own words. But there are revealing gaps between how voters are most likely to describe Biden’s foreign policy and what they would prefer to see: interest-driven realism is seen as descriptive of Biden’s approach but is divisive (13-point gap), while a principled pursuit of peace is popular but is considered less descriptive (-7-point gap). This 20-point disparity widens to a staggering 47 points among critical independent voters.

About the Poll 

Blueprint commissioned a survey conducted by YouGov of 1,012 voters from Dec. 2 to Dec. 5. nationally using web panel respondents. The survey was conducted in English, and its margin of error is ±3.4 percentage points.

Full toplines can be accessed here and crosstabs here.

About Blueprint

Blueprint is a public opinion research initiative designed to study the most crucial voting groups and which policies and messages are breaking through and resonating with them. Through frequent polling and message testing on the most salient political issues, Blueprint will provide insights and recommendations on how to reach the voters who will be essential to delivering the Democrats the White House and control of Congress in 2024. Going beyond the scope of typical message testing, Blueprint will examine whether voters have even heard of or are convinced by the underlying accomplishments that President Biden is spreading the message about, and who voters think these policies are meant to serve.

Blueprint does not advocate for any specific policy agenda; this effort is focused on identifying messaging and narratives (including those that are out-of-the-box or contrary to current conventional wisdom) that will produce winning coalitions for Democrats in 2024.

There is a widely shared view that the central vulnerability that Democrats face in 2024 is not the quality of our current governance or policies, but rather our inability to create a compelling narrative that can sway voters in the most fiercely contested states and congressional districts across the country. Using state-of-the-art polling that incorporates pollster analysis and highly actionable practitioner-oriented data, Blueprint will help campaigns and other stakeholders see where voters stand and how Biden and the Democratic Party can best appeal to those who will shape the outcome of the 2024 elections, including independents and swing voters.

Blueprint also aims to be a go-to resource for the media. Three years into the Biden presidency and a year out from the general election, journalists are diving into why the president’s approval ratings remain low and why he’s not getting more credit for his accomplishments. As the 2024 cycle progresses, Blueprint’s polling and research will serve as a vital tool for answering these and other questions.
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