President Donald Trump faces a tall task in his Oval Office address on Tuesday night: convincing voters outside of his political base that there is an urgent crisis at the nation’s southern border, that a wall along the border is necessary to solve it, and it’s worth a government shutdown that has stretched for nearly three weeks.
A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, conducted as the partial government shutdown reached its third week, reveals the scope of Trump’s challenge. A minority of voters agree with Trump’s description of a crisis of illegal immigration at the southern border. There’s only tepid support for the wall he wants to build there. Voters are opposed to shutting down the government to extract the funds for the wall’s construction — and more blame Trump and the GOP for the shutdown than Democrats.
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Nearly half of voters, 47 percent, say Trump is mostly to blame for the shutdown, the poll shows, while another 5 percent point the finger at congressional Republicans. But just a third, 33 percent, blame Democrats in Congress.
Trump is expected to make the case Tuesday night for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He has described conditions along the border from California east to Texas as “a crisis” — but less than half of voters (42 percent) view it as ‘a crisis,‘ the poll shows. There is, however, widespread belief that the border is a serious issue: In addition to the 4-in-10 voters who say the border situation is ‘a crisis,‘ another 37 percent say the U.S. has ‘a problem‘ along the border, though they don’t view it as a crisis.
Just 12 percent say the U.S. faces neither a crisis nor a problem at the border.
The poll underscores Trump’s challenge in building popular support for his border policy and the shutdown it has sparked. He has the backing of his core supporters — which has served to perpetuate the fight over the border wall — but a majority of Americans don’t believe the border issue has reached crisis proportions. More than seven-in-10 Republicans, 72 percent, say the U.S. faces a crisis at the southern border, and 82 percent favor the wall.
“Our polling suggests Republican voters are responding well to President Trump’s handling of the contentious battle around the government shutdown,” said Tyler Sinclair, Morning Consult’s vice president. “Notably, 69 percent of Republican voters blame congressional Democrats, and 15 percent blame President Trump for the government shutdown. Among the same group, the president’s approval crept upward, with 84 percent approving and 15 percent disapproving of his performance this week, compared to 81 percent approval and 18 percent disapproval pre-shutdown.”
But support from Republicans belies the president’s overall standing in the fight. Trump’s overall approval rating in the poll (43 percent), support for a border wall (44 percent) and the percentage of voters who say there is a crisis at the southern border (42 percent) are all in the low 40s. Among independent voters, Trump’s approval rating is 38 percent, 37 percent believe there is a crisis at the southern border and 37 percent support the construction of a border wall.
The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll — the first one of 2019 — was conducted January 4-6, two weeks after the beginning of the partial shutdown, but prior to Trump’s announcement that he would address the nation on Tuesday night. The poll surveyed 1,989 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
While more voters oppose construction of a border wall in the poll than support it, 47 percent to 44 percent, the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows slightly less opposition to the wall than other public surveys conducted before the shutdown. In a pre-shutdown Quinnipiac University poll last December, 54 percent of voters opposed a border wall, while 43 percent of voters favored one — the greatest level of support for the wall since Quinnipiac began asking about a wall in 2016.
But even if the wall was popular, the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll suggests voters would oppose shutting down the government to secure funding for it. Nearly two-thirds, 65 percent, say the president shouldn’t shut down the government to achieve his policy goals, while only 22 percent say a temporary shutdown is acceptable to change policy.
Morning Consult is a nonpartisan media and technology company that provides data-driven research and insights on politics, policy and business strategy.