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Immigration Surges to Top of Most Important Problem List

Immigration Surges to Top of Most Important Problem List

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Significantly more Americans name immigration as the most important problem facing the U.S. (28%) than did a month ago (20%). Immigration has now passed the government as the most often cited problem, after the two issues tied for the top position the past two months. The government ranked first each month from January through November 2023.

In the latest poll, 20% of Americans name the government as the most important problem, followed by the economy (12%) and inflation (11%). Immigration is the only issue that has shown meaningful change in the past month.


The latest results are based on a Feb. 1-20 Gallup survey. Immigration has ranked ahead of all other issues as the most important problem before, having last done so five years ago when there was a surge of attempted border crossings by Central American migrants. Immigration also ranked as the No. 1 problem in July and November 2018 and July 2014.

Gallup started compiling mentions of immigration in 1981. The 28% currently naming immigration as the most important problem essentially ties the 27% reading from July 2019 as the highest in Gallup’s trend.

The latest survey was conducted at a time when a bipartisan group of congressional senators reached an agreement on an immigration reform proposal. The bill ultimately failed to pass a Senate vote, but it faced an uncertain fate in the Republican-led House of Representatives even if it had passed. The House passed a tougher immigration bill in 2023 that the Democratic-led Senate has not taken up and President Joe Biden promised to veto.

The recent bipartisan negotiations took place in response to a record number of border crossings at the southern border in recent months, peaking at over 300,000 in December. An influx of migrants in U.S. cities has also stressed social services there.

Republicans typically are the subgroup most likely to name immigration as the most important problem, and they are largely responsible for the increase in mentions this month. Currently, 57% of Republicans, up from 37% in January, say immigration is the top problem. Independents show a modest uptick, from 16% in January to 22% now, while there has been no meaningful change among Democrats (9% in January and 10% in February).

Residents of the East (36%) and South (31%) are more likely to say immigration is the biggest U.S. problem than are those living in the Midwest (25%) and West (22%). Southern residents have typically been most likely to regard immigration as the top issue.

More See Illegal Immigration as a Critical U.S. Threat

A separate question in the survey finds a record-high 55% of U.S. adults, up eight points from last year, saying that “large numbers of immigrants entering the United States illegally” is a critical threat to U.S. vital interests. The prior high was 50% in 2004.


The vast majority of Republicans already believed illegal immigration was a critical threat; 84% said so a year ago, but the percentage has now reached 90%. A larger increase, from 40% to 54%, has been seen among independents. Far fewer Democrats view illegal immigration as a critical threat, but that percentage is up from 20% in 2023 to 29%.

Congressional Job Approval Dips

Perhaps related to its unsuccessful efforts on immigration and a foreign aid package, Congress’ job approval rating has fallen to 12%. This is the lowest Congress’ approval rating has been since it was 11% in November 2015, although there have been several 13% readings in that period, including last October.

The all-time low reading for Congress is 9%, registered in November 2013 after a government shutdown in a dispute over funding the Affordable Care Act.


Congress’ job rating has consistently been below 20% since July -- and in the current session, which began in January 2023, it has only reached 21%. Republicans hold a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, while Democrats have a narrow majority in the Senate. On Feb. 13, the House, by one vote, approved impeachment articles against Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas over his department’s failure to secure the U.S. border. That vote was the House’s second attempt to impeach Mayorkas after the first attempt on Feb. 6 failed.

Fourteen percent of Democrats, 12% of independents and 9% of Republicans approve of the job Congress is doing. Congressional approval has fallen meaningfully among independents in the past month, from 18%. Democrats’ and Republicans’ approval ratings are similar to or the same as in January (15% and 9%, respectively).

Economic Ratings Inch Up Again

The February poll also included Gallup’s monthly update of Americans’ economic sentiments.

These assessments remain more negative than positive but have become considerably less dour in recent months. Currently, 26% of U.S. adults describe current economic conditions as excellent or good, while 32% say they are only fair and 41% poor. The poor rating is down slightly from 45% in January and has not been lower since January 2022, when it was 37%.

When asked whether the economy is getting better or worse, 32% say it is improving and 61% worsening. However, the 32% who believe the economy is getting better is the highest Gallup has measured since September 2021.

Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index, which summarizes current economic evaluations and perceptions of whether the economy is improving, is -22, a nearly 20-point improvement since October’s -41 reading. It is the highest the index has been since September 2021, the month before the inflation rate surpassed 6%.


All party groups have been more positive about the economy since October, though the confidence levels still vary greatly among these groups. Since October, the index has increased 24 points among Democrats (from 0 to +24), 14 points among independents (from -43 to -29) and nine points among Republicans (from -72 to -63).

Improved economic evaluations have done little to brighten Americans’ overall mood, as 19% are satisfied and 79% dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States. These ratings have been highly stable in recent months, with satisfaction ranging between 18% and 22% since May.

Similarly, Biden’s job approval rating does not seem to be helped by the economy -- 38% approve of the way he is handling his job. Biden’s performance on the immigration issue may be keeping his overall rating down, as he receives a personal low of 28% for his handling of immigration at the same time that the issue has become more salient to the public.

Bottom Line

While many Americans regard the economy, generally, or inflation, specifically, as the most important problem facing the U.S., far more name immigration. Immigration now sits alone at the top of the most important problem list, something it has done only occasionally in Gallup’s trend and not since 2019.

Although their economic assessments have improved, Americans remain largely dissatisfied with the state of the nation and the job federal leaders are doing.

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