One month after hitting a new high, mentions of immigration as the biggest problem facing the United States jumped another 5% up to 27%, according to Gallup.
Gallup began regularly following mentions of immigration in 1993, and the issue has been cited by an average of 6% of Americans, though that has been higher in recent years. There also have been short-lived spikes, generally when immigration events occurred.
The latest poll, that ran from July 1-12, was conducted amid the furor over the housing conditions of illegal immigrants detained at the border.
Democrats’ and Republicans’ views differ on the conditions, though both sides acknowledged overcrowding and called the situation at the border a crisis.
Gallup’s report shows Republicans typically call immigration the most important problem, and more so than Democrats and Independents.
The latest survey shows 42% of Republicans, and 20% of both Democrats and Independents say immigration is the biggest issue facing the country, and all political groups are more likely to mention immigration now than earlier this year.
In March of this year, only 16% of Americans identified immigration as the most important problem (31% of Republicans, 14% of Independents and 6% of Democrats).
Immigration Now the Top Problem
Now, just four months later, immigration is No. 1 on the “most important problem” list for the just the fourth time in Gallup’s trend. It also was No. 1 in July of 2014, July of 2018 and November of 2018.
Only 14% of Americans name the U.S. economic issues like unemployment, income inequality and the economy in general as the most important issue. The historic low in mentions of economic issues is 12%, registered in September and February of 2018.
Just Five Issues Have Topped 27% Since 2001
Gallup has been asking its “most important problem” question since 1939, and has done so on a monthly basis since March of 2001. In the 19 years since, only five issues have been mentioned by at least 27% of respondents. These issues include the economy in general, unemployment, the situation in Iraq, terrorism and the government.
- Since 2001, the economy has met or exceeded the percentage naming immigration this month on 58 separate occasions, most recently in November 2012. This includes 58% naming the economy in November 2008 during the Great Recession and financial crisis, the highest percentage naming any issue over the past 19 years.
- Unemployment has reached the 27% threshold 17 times since 2001, topping out at 39% in September 2011, when the U.S. unemployment rate was 9.0% and President Barack Obama was proposing a major jobs program.
- The government has been cited by 27% or more of Americans as the most important problem six times, with the high of 35% coming in February of this year, shortly after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history ended.
- During the height of the U.S. war with Iraq between 2003 and 2007, the situation in Iraq routinely ranked as the top problem facing the country. On 21 occasions, the percentage naming it was at least 27%, with a high of 38% in February 2007.
- Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 46% of Americans named terrorism as the most important problem facing the country. Mentions of terrorism surpassed 27% on four other occasions between 2001 and 2002.
Americans’ concern about immigration has reached a high point in Gallup’s measurement of the issue, at least based on the percentage of U.S. adults who perceive the issue to be the most important problem facing the country. Dramatic images of overcrowded detention centers and acknowledgments from politicians of both political parties that the issue is a crisis have likely contributed to the rise in concern. And even as Democrats and Republicans continue to dispute the best way to address the situation, Congress has passed and President Donald Trump has signed legislation to spend over $4 billion in additional funds to address the situation at the border.
That recent law marked a rare instance when the parties found common ground on immigration since a bipartisan attempt to address the issue in the mid-2000s failed. Obama, who was unable to get a Republican-led Congress to pass immigration reform, resorted to executive orders to attempt to institute new immigration policies. Federal courts blocked that course of action. Immigration was arguably the top issue in Trump’s 2016 campaign, and he, too, has been unable to pass favored legislation on the issue, including the full amount of funding he sought to extend the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Many of his attempts to circumvent the legislative process have also been blocked by Congress and the courts.
As such, immigration is likely to remain a top issue for Americans, particularly at points when large numbers of immigrants or asylum seekers are attempting to enter the country illegally.