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Immigration Jumps as Top Problem, Still Trails Government

Immigration Jumps as Top Problem, Still Trails Government

Story Highlights

  • 15% of Americans say immigration is the nation's most important problem
  • 25% of Republicans name immigration, compared with 6% of Democrats
  • Government remains the top problem, at 22% of all mentions

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- 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.

What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? [Open-ended]
Issues mentioned by 3% or more of respondents
January 2018 February 2018
% %
Dissatisfaction with government 25 22
Immigration 8 15
Race relations 7 8
Healthcare 6 7
Unifying the country 5 6
Economy in general 4 6
Unemployment/Jobs 2 4
Moral/Religious/Family decline 2 4
Federal budget deficit 3 3
Lack of respect for each other 3 3
Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness 4 3
Education 3 3
Environment/Pollution 2 3

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.

Graph 2

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 rating Americans 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.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 1-10, 2018, with a random sample of 1,044 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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