A majority of people who voted for President Donald Trump consider criminal gang MS-13 a threat to the United States, a new poll finds, indicating the Trump administration may be succeeding in inflating the perception of the gang’s national risk.
Eighty-five percent of Trump voters say the gang, which is frequently invoked by the Trump administration as a reason to increase border security, is a very serious or somewhat serious threat to the United States as a whole, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey.
A fair share of Trump voters say they are worried about being personally affected by MS-13. About half indicated they are worried a great deal or somewhat that they or a family member will fall victim to MS-13 violence.
Among Hillary Clinton voters, only 32 percent consider MS-13 a very serious or somewhat serious threat to the country, and 13 percent are worried about the gang’s violence affecting themselves or a family member.
MS-13, or La Mara Salvatrucha, was started in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Members are primarily immigrants and descendants from El Salvador, and the group now has pockets around the country, including in the New York and Washington, D.C., areas.
The gang is less a sophisticated international organization than a collection of cliques engaging in violence, small-scale drug-dealing and other crimes. It has about 10,000 members nationwide, according to the Justice Department ― roughly the same as a decade ago.
The U.S. originally contributed to the problem by deporting gang members back to Central America, where gang activity flourished. Now, unaccompanied minors are coming to the United States fleeing that violence.
MS-13 doesn’t appear to have deep financial resources for a much-publicized international criminal organization. In El Salvador, for example, anti-extortion raids of MS-13 and other gang members netted only $34,665 from 2012 to 2015, according to The New York Times.
The Trump administration’s campaign against MS-13 is disproportionate with the actual threat, some law enforcement officials told the Times, and can overshadow other pressing issues, like the opioid epidemic.
In the U.S., MS-13 members commit violence that has garnered attention for its brutality. A federal grand jury recently indicted eight gang members in Dallas on charges that included machete attacks. But, as ProPublica noted, the gang tends to target a certain community, not the entire U.S. population. Its victims are largely immigrants, who themselves may be undocumented.
Trump has, nonetheless, painted MS-13 as an pressing international threat in the context of pushing closed-border policies that impact many immigrants, including legal ones with zero criminal ties. He has called MS-13 members an ”infestation,” ”animals,” and ”thugs” who have “transformed peaceful parks...into bloodstained killing fields.” He’s claimed, falsely, that he’s seen “ICE liberate towns from the grasp of MS-13.” And he blamed family separations at the border ― his own administration’s policy ― on Democrats who are “protecting MS-13 thugs.”
HuffPost polling suggests that people are listening to the president’s message. More than 70 percent of Clinton and Trump voters say they’ve heard the president say at least a little recently about MS-13. Overall, 87 percent of Trump voters want stricter immigration policies, compared with 15 percent of Clinton voters.
As a comparison to worries about MS-13, a May 2017 HuffPost/YouGov survey showed 37 percent of Americans were at least somewhat worried that they or a family member would fall victim to gun violence.
And, in August 2017, only a third of Trump voters indicated that white nationalism was a very serious or somewhat serious threat to the United States, compared with 87 percent of Clinton voters who said the same.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted July 5 and July 6 among U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.
HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.
Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.