One of six Americans say that immigration issues now rank as the nation's most pressing problem, a tripling in just one month, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.
That jump -- from 5% last month to 17% -- appears striking, but perhaps just as surprising is that the poll shows that, despite the large volume of publicity over the border situation, the overwhelming majority of Americans say they are focusing more on other problems, including dissatisfaction with government and economic issues.
Perhaps less surprising is that two other polls, by the Pew Research Center and for the Washington Post-ABC News, give President Obama low marks for how he handled the crisis at the border. Congressional Republicans fare even worse.
The fights over immigration issues have turned the last few months into a seemingly never-ending season of discontent.
At that point the national media learned that 57,000 unaccompanied children had illegally entered the United States from Central America just since October, with tens of thousands more expected shortly. By then, the exodus had been underway for months and was labeled a humanitarian crisis by the president. Yet advocacy groups and officials, including the governor of Texas, had sounded the alarm in 2012.
How to deal with children and where to put them has set off demonstrations from Murrieta, Calif., to Oracle, Ariz., to Vassar, Mich., with seemingly unending cable television images of angry white people shouting at buses of children to go away or loudly decrying a national policy at local meetings.
Counter-demonstrators, supporting the children, were also caught on tape creating a cable loop of discontent.
Officials, such as Nebraska’s Gov. Dave Heineman, complained that the federal government was deliberately avoiding telling anyone when it was moving immigrants into their states in the hope of damping protests. Local officials from Texas to Maryland said they were worried about who would pay to house, feed and educate these children.
There also was the issue of how to treat the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Though the issues are separate, they were joined in the public mind by the protesters who used the same arguments on both sides. Last month, the president acknowledged that efforts at comprehensive immigration reform were dead and he blamed Republicans in the House of Representatives for killing any hope of change.
There is a clear tie between news coverage of an issue and how it ranks.
According to the latest Gallup poll, immigration moved up in people's minds to 17% from just 5% in June and 3% in January. The last time immigration reached 10% was in 2010 when a draconian Arizona law was being debated. Before that, immigration increased twice in 2006 to 15% or more amid congressional debate over immigration reform.
Immigration ranked No. 1, according to the Gallup poll, while dissatisfaction with government and its leaders ranked No. 2 at 16%. The economy, unemployment and healthcare rounded out the top five at 15%, 14% and 8% respectively.
While immigration has grown in concern, all the others fell since June and January, according to Gallup.
The poll is based on telephone interviews July 7 to July 10 with a random sample of 1,013 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The unhappiness with government leaders, especially Obama, is a common thread in the other polls as well. Obama is seeking $3.7 billion from Congress to deal with the border crisis and is facing opposition from conservative Republicans who question the amount of money and from liberal Democrats who question his request to change the legal procedures in how the cases involving the children are adjudicated.
According to the Washington Post-ABC News poll, 58% of those surveyed, including 54% of Latinos, said they disapproved of how the president has handled the issue of the Central American children at the border. Obama received more than 7 out of 10 votes cast by Latinos when he was reelected two years ago.
But Obama could take some comfort from the poll, which found that 66% disapproved of how congressional Republicans were dealing with the issue.
The Pew poll found a comparable number, with 56% saying they disapproved of how Obama was handling the crisis at the border while just 28% of those surveyed approved. Still, Obama’s overall approval rating since April has remained the same, at 44%, and disapproval rating stayed at 49%.
On immigration issues, 53% said they supported an accelerated legal process for judging the Central American children’s claims for asylum. The public continued to support an overhaul of the immigration system, but support for a path to legal status slipped to 68% from 73% in February, according to Pew.
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