President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency on the border on Friday immediately launched the president into conflict with Congress. Over the objections of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, Trump now intends to unilaterally divert billions of dollars that Congress refused to give him to fund the construction of a barrier on the southern border.
Trump's decision to build the wall with emergency powers also throws him into conflict with another group of people: American voters.
For years, polling has consistently revealed that a clear majority of Americans oppose the construction of a border wall. Though support for the wall seems to have grown in the last year, recent polls have found that Americans, as a group, still oppose a barrier on the souther border—and by more than a 10-point margin.
A detailed survey completed by the Pew Research Center last month found that 58 percent of Americans oppose substantial expansion of the United States–Mexico border wall, compared to the 40 percent who support it. However, Pew polling also reveals that support for the wall has grown: Opposition is down from a peak of 62 percent in 2017, and support has grown from a low of 34 percent in 2016.
That said, polls still reveal a clear margin in opposition to the wall. A Harvard Center for American Political Studies/Harris poll released to the Hill in late December found 56 percent of respondents in opposition to the wall's construction, with 44 percent in support. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from mid-January showed 54 percent opposed, compared to 42 percent in support.
That survey, which was completed in the midst of the shutdown, also revealed that two-thirds of Americans would oppose Trump using a national emergency to fund a wall. And only a quarter of respondents said they agreed with his claim that there is a crisis on the border.
Though presidents have, in the past, declared national emergencies on no less than 58 occasions, Trump's current declaration may prove unprecedented in the way it clashes directly with public opinion. In the past, national emergencies have been used to address scenarios like disease outbreaks or terrorists attacks. Trump's decision to use a declaration to fund an unpopular policy proposal does not have a clear historical antecedent. Only two other presidents—both named Bush—have used emergency powers to spend money without first getting approval from Congress, and neither did so in a way that was particularly controversial. George H.W. Bush diverted funds in the lead-up the Gulf War in 1990, and George W. Bush did the same in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Analysts, like the New York Times' Nate Cohn, have called Trump's push to build the wall an appeal to his base. Though the majority of Americans oppose its construction, a wall has clear margins of support among GOP voters. Pew found that Republican support for the wall has skyrocketed from 72 percent in 2018 up to its current standing at 82 percent. As Cohn argued in January, Trump's attempt to build the wall might prove popular with his core voters, but it's unlikely to attract new supporters to his cause.
Polling has yet to reveal what Trump's base thinks of his decision to use emergency powers to build the wall. But the January ABC News/Washington Post poll found that, even among supporters of the wall, only 46 percent agreed with Trump that there is a crisis on the border.