Most Americans Oppose Abolishing ICE

A new poll lends credence to the suggestion that Democrats should be careful about rallying behind the call to "Abolish ICE."

A new poll shows that voters oppose an idea that is sweeping through the Democratic Party, especially among the potential candidates for the party’s 2020 nomination:

A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows that most voters oppose eliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the homeland security agency some liberal Democrats have called for abolishing.

Only 1 in 4 voters in the poll, 25 percent, believe the federal government should get rid of ICE. The majority, 54 percent, think the government should keep ICE. Twenty-one percent of voters are undecided.

But a plurality of Democratic voters do support abolishing ICE, the poll shows. Among Democrats, 43 percent say the government should get rid of ICE, while only 34 percent say it should keep ICE. Majorities of Republicans (79 percent) and independents (54 percent) want the government to keep ICE.

Calls to abolish ICE have been amplified over the past two weeks — since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a liberal challenger, defeated House Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley in a Democratic primary for Crowley’s New York City-based seat. Ocasio-Cortez campaigned on the issue, and has said that ICE represents ”the draconian enforcement that has happened since 2003 that routinely violates our civil rights, because, frankly, it was designed with that structure in mind.”

A handful of liberal figures — including some potential 2020 presidential candidates, like Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) — have also called for eliminating or replacing ICE, as have other Democratic primary challengers, like Cynthia Nixon, who is running against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

President Donald Trump has, in turn, attacked Democrats for advocating the elimination of the agency.

“The Democrats are making a strong push to abolish ICE, one of the smartest, toughest and most spirited law enforcement groups of men and women that I have ever seen,” Trump tweeted last month, though the “Abolish ICE” position is not widely held in the party.

Looking ahead to the midterms and the role that the “Abolish ICE” movement could play in the battle for control of Congress, the signs continue to not look good for Democrats. Asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who supported abolishing ICE, 40% of respondents said it would make it less likely to support such a candidate, 26% said that it would make them more likely to support such a candidate, and one-third said it would not make a difference. Additionally, while a plurality of Democrats supports the idea, the poll shows that there is very little support for the idea of abolishing ICE outside of the Democratic Party. Among Republicans, for example, 61% of respondents say that they would be less likely to support a candidate who supported abolishing ICE, while 41% of Independents say they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. All of this suggests that joining in the calls to abolish ICE could prove risky for Democratic candidates in marginal, battleground, or Republican-leaning districts and states, something which could make it more difficult for Democrats to capture control of Congress in the fall.

All of this is occurring, of course, in the context of the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy in dealing with people attempting to illegally enter the United States at the Mexican border, which at least for a time led to the separation of parents and children in apparent violation of existing law. While the Trump Administration subsequently abandoned the family separation policy, many activists on the left took up the cause of  abolishing ICE, the agency charged with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws and policies. In short order, the activists were joined by some top Democrats, including many who are seen as likely or potential candidates for the party’s nomination in 2020, including New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris, All of this has happened notwithstanding the fact that it is entirely unclear what “Abolish ICE” means beyond being a political slogan that resonates with a certain audience.

Polls like this would seem to reinforce the argument I made late last week when I observed that rallying around the calls to abolish ICE could end up backfiring on Democrats. Yes, there is some support in the poll for this kind proposal among Democrats and one can make the argument that it is useful as a slogan to rally the base in advance of the elections, but even there support for the idea falls far short of being a majority. The more important numbers for Democrats to look at, I would maintain, are those that show majorities of both Republicans and Independents opposing the idea. This gap leaves Democratic candidates in anything other than a deeply blue state or district in danger of being tarred with the argument that their party is supporting ideas such as “Abolish ICE” that, according to Republicans at least, would mean weakening the Federal Government’s ability to enforce immigration laws and sounds as if they are essentially advocating for an end to the enforcement of immigration laws. That’s exactly how Trump and Republicans are framing the debate right now, of course, and if they succeed then Democrats could find that they’ve given Republicans a potent weapon come November.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Campaign 2018, Congress, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    My take on “Abolish ICE” is that it’s a slogan. It’s short and punchy. It’s like “free college” and “free healthcare”. I didn’t like those slogans either, for much the same reason as you object to “Abolish ICE”. It’s terrible policy. It will never happen.

    And we live in a time where “Build The Wall” put someone into the White House. Apparently the electorate likes slogans that don’t make a lot of policy sense.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that most Americans realize that it isn’t the agency that’s the problem and just creating a new agency empowered to enforce our immigration laws changes nothing.

  3. JKB says:

    I like it because it won’t be hard to morph “Abolish ICE” into “Abolish NICE” on the Dems. And there is lots of video of Democrats abolishing niceness.

  4. James Pearce says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    My take on “Abolish ICE” is that it’s a slogan.

    It’s a dumb “slogan.” Chant it and people might think you actually want to abolish ICE.

    Try and reassure them that, no, it’s just talk –you have no intention of actually abolishing ICE, or even trying to– then they might think you’re full of shit.

  5. Kathy says:

    After the 2006 election, His Majesty Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador raised a very big fuss because he lost (by a small margin, to be sure). He went on to insure he wouldn’t win six years hence by throwing a big tantrum (like closing down a major avenue in Mexico City for weeks).

    But he was effective enough in his whining and (false) allegations of fraud, that many lost trust in the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), which oversaw elections and handled voter registration nationwide.

    In the years following, Congress undertook electoral reform, the most salient aspect of which was the IFE was abolished and replaced with the National Electoral Institute (INE). This brand new entity not only did the same things the disgraced IFE had, but did them out of the same offices and with the same personnel. It even kept the same institutional colors.

    And that’s one can expect most times a big, important government agency is abolished. It has to be replaced, and the replacement will be pretty much the same

  6. wr says:

    Well, if there’s one thing we all know it’s that minds can never be changed by a forceful argument backed up by an expensive PR campaign. Once that first poll is taken, that’s it forever.

  7. teve tory says:

    Jesus. It just took me 2 hours to get through downtown. The streets are all but impassable. Tens of thousands of people are marching with signs and chants, saying “KEEP ICE!” and “WHAT DO WE WANT? NO CHANGES TO THE BUREAUCRATIC STRUCTURE PLACING ICE UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY EXACTLY AS IT WAS IMPLEMENTED IN MARCH OF 2003!” WHEN DO WE WANT IT?” “FOR THE INDEFINITE FUTURE!”

    Man, the democrats are making a huge mistake.

  8. teve tory says:

    @wr: I mean, how could you even try to demonize an agency related to taking crying toddlers away from their moms and losing them, some of which is caught on audio and video? You’d have to be a PR Genius.

  9. Kathy says:


    Things can change, even after the all-important omniscient first poll.

    But the gist of the post was that making a big issue of abolishing ICE won’t find much sympathy outside the Democratic party base.

    Also, what matters is not changing an agency but changing the policies. If you abolish ICE and replace it with something else that does the same things, what good is it?

  10. wr says:

    @Kathy: “. If you abolish ICE and replace it with something else that does the same things, what good is it?”

    Well, yeah. Perhaps this is why we don’t hear Kamala Harris and other saying “Abolish ICE and replace it with something that will be exactly the same with a different name.”

    Democrats spent all of 2016 whining that all Hillary had to offer was extensive positions and plans to be found on her website, and not a snappy slogan that, if it didn’t exactly cover every possible complication in excruciating detail, painted a picture and sold a message.

    Now some Dem candidates have exactly that. And certain Dem voters are saying “But wait, that’s just a slogan that doesn’t cover every possible complication in excruciating detail.”

  11. teve tory says:

    @wr: yep.

  12. Kathy says:


    Well, yeah. Perhaps this is why we don’t hear Kamala Harris and other saying “Abolish ICE and replace it with something that will be exactly the same with a different name.”

    No, no one ever says that. The Republicans who want to abolish the IRS don’t say it will be replaced by something that will do the same thing under a different name (perhaps the ERS, Eternal Revenue Service?)

    But will enforcement of border policies be abolished along with ICE or not? If not, then you’ll wind up with a different agency doing the same things.

  13. wr says:

    @Kathy: “But will enforcement of border policies be abolished along with ICE or not? If not, then you’ll wind up with a different agency doing the same things.”

    My guess is that there still is an intelligence bureau in Germany. That fact doesn’t mean that eliminating the Stasi wasn’t a great step forward for the country.

    And by the way, ICE doesn’t enforce border policies. We have a Border Patrol for that.

  14. Tyrell says:

    @teve tory: I have seen signs at some of these demonstrations such as: “No Ice No Borders”.
    That sort of junk won’t sell down here.

  15. Barry says:
  16. Barry says:

    BTW Doug, you also have a post stating (correctly) that the majority of American oppose overturning Roe v Wade.

    How much would you bet on that?

    In addition, please note this post: