President Trump has the same approval rating today as President Obama a year-and-a-half into his presidency. This is being trumpeted by his supporters as evidence of media hypocrisy—the press was still heaping praise on Obama in 2010 as his poll numbers sank, while it is excoriating President Trump as his poll numbers reach all-time highs.
Of course, an important variable in analyzing these numbers is the state of the economy, which was as bad as it had been in a several generations in 2010, and is now the best its been in twenty years. And this fantastic economy [for which Trump deserves as much credit as any president who presides over any economy] is papering over the unprecedented unpopularity of his policies.
Take, for instance, immigration. 76% of Americans oppose the Trump administration’s policy of deporting DREAMers, or immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. 54% of American oppose spending money to expand the southern border wall, and the share of Americans who support reducing legal immigration is lower today than it’s been in decades, and lower than the share of Americans who want to see legal immigration levels stay the same.
In a pleasant surprise, the trend in the data of Americans supporting immigration jives completely with the facts on the ground. The preponderance of economic studies on the topic show that immigration is an unalloyed good for the American economy. Not only is population growth necessary for economic growth, most studies show that immigration is good for wages too, boosting pay for workers at all income levels. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is at historic lows, at the same time that the labor-force participation rate is falling, suggesting that the need for foreign labor has never been higher.
The current administration is also wrong on the question of illegal immigration, and how to stop it. The total illegal migrant population in the United States is lower today than it was in 2009, and the total number of illegal migrants apprehended at the border has been steadily falling since that time as well. That’s because the flow of illegal migration has very little to do with conditions in destination countries and everything to do with conditions in the countries which immigrants are fleeing. If you think about it for two seconds, you’ll see why. What would cause you to take your family on a life-threatening journey thousands of miles from your home, and what would dissuade you from making that journey if you thought is was necessary to ensure your family's safety? The preponderance of illegal immigrants in America are fleeing unspeakable violence in their home countries, such as El Salvador. Hateful a man as Jeff Sessions is, it’s doubtful that even he is capable of going toe to toe with El Salvadorian drug gangs in terms of what each is willing to inflict on these innocents. And even if he were, U.S. courts wouldn’t allow it.
Donald Trump has been incredibly lucky so far as president, in direct proportion to how unlucky President Obama was in assuming the presidency in the midst of the worst American economic crisis in generations. But few administrations can count on that sort of luck for eight years. Eventually he will have to reckon with the fact that cornerstone policy of his administration is very unpopular and objectively bad for the economy.
Christopher Matthews is a writer who splits his time between New York City and Accra, Ghana, with an interest in the intersection of markets, the economy, and public policy. He previously held staff positions at Axios, Fortune Magazine, and Time Magazine, and has been published in Forbes and Debtwire.