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Immigration Jumps as Top Problem, Still Trails Government.

Americans' mentions of immigration as the most important problem facing the nation have almost doubled this month, rising to 15% of all mentions from 8% last month. Dysfunctional government, mentioned by 22% of U.S. adults, remains the top problem on Americans' list.

The rise in concerns about immigration is the only major change in the public's perceptions of problems facing the country in the latest monthly update. In addition to government and immigration, race relations, healthcare, the need to unify the country, and the economy are among the top problems mentioned.

Interviewing for this month's update was conducted at a time when immigration was front and center, during the congressional debate on a budget bill that was signed into law on Feb. 9. In the days preceding the bill's passage, Democrats had threatened to withhold their support if the bill didn't include provisions to help young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children. In the end, immigration was not part of the final bill--but Republican leaders promised to bring the issue up for debate, which is now taking place.

Despite the fact that leaders of both major parties have made immigration a central issue of policy debates, the increase in mentions of immigration as the nation's No. 1 problem is fueled almost entirely by Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, among whom 25% now name immigration as the top problem, compared with 16% in January. Democrats infrequently mention immigration, with 4% doing so in January and 6% now.

The surge in mentions of immigration among Republicans makes it the most frequently named issue for that group, significantly ahead of the 18% who mention dysfunctional government. No other problem rises to more than 8% among Republicans.

In contrast, immigration is the fifth most frequently mentioned problem among Democrats--behind government at 25%, race relations (12%), healthcare (10%) and the economy (8%).

Immigration Rarely Reaches 15% of Top-Problem Mentions

On average, 5% of Americans have named immigration as the top problem over the span of Gallup's surveys conducted each month since January 2001, although the frequency of mentions has varied widely across this period.

Mentions of immigration have reached 15% or higher three times before this month's survey:

* In April and June 2006, 19% and 18%, respectively, mentioned immigration as the most important problem. This was a time defined by congressional efforts to develop a comprehensive immigration bill, and was marked by large immigration-law protests in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and other major U.S. cities.

* In June 2007, immigration reached 15% of all mentions as the Senate debated President George W. Bush's hotly contested immigration overhaul bill. The effort fell short in the Senate's final vote at the end of that month.

* In July and August 2014, immigration comprised 17% and 15% of most important problem mentions, respectively, reflecting the news focus on tens of thousands of refugees from Central American countries attempting to enter the U.S. at its southern border.

On a yearly basis, immigration was mentioned most frequently in 2006, at 10% of all mentions, and in 2007, with 9% of all mentions. Mentions of immigration have also been slightly above average in recent years, averaging 7% or 8% each year since 2014--and 12% over the first two months of 2018.

Bottom Line

Immigration has risen toward the top of Americans' list of the problems facing the nation this month, reflecting the central place the issue has occupied in recent debates over the national budget and policy priorities.

Democratic leaders have been focused on the plight of immigrants brought to this country illegally as children. President Donald Trump and Republican leaders have been focused on legislation to address border security and the president's campaign promise to build a massive wall along the nation's southern border.

While both groups of leaders appear to have strongly held positions on the issue, the salience of immigration and the need for immigration reform as the top problem facing the country is significantly higher among Republicans nationwide than it is among Democrats. This could reflect, in part, Trump's persistent focus on the issue throughout his presidential campaign and first year in office. It could also reflect Democrats' focus on Trump's presidency, seen in the "dysfunctional government" category, which overwhelms their concerns about immigration. Or there could be other reasons why the issue is so much more top of mind as a problem among Republicans than among Democrats.

Still, even with Americans' increasing concern about immigration as the country's top problem, dysfunctional government continues to be the No. 1 problem mentioned, as it was for all of 2017. The public's displeasure with government is also seen in the low 15% job approval ratingAmericans currently give Congress. Perhaps some of the reasons for Americans' citing dysfunctional government as the top problem indirectly reflect their immigration concerns--specifically, Congress' inability so far to deal with the issue.

It is possible that the current congressional debate on immigration will result in a compromise that will be signed into law by Trump, and if so, Americans' focus on the issue as the nation's top problem would certainly be mitigated in the months ahead. If not, the issue is likely to remain high on Americans' list of major problems facing the country, at least as long as the debate over what to do continues.

SOURCE: Frank Newport, Gallup


Anne Whitaker, Editor Research Alert PO Box 224 Spencerville, MD 20868-0224 Phone: 301-384-1573 Fax: 301-879-8803
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Author:Whitaker, Anne
Publication:Research Alert Daily
Date:Feb 21, 2018
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