IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Republican voters see illegal immigration as the nation's #1 issue

Donald Trump wants Americans to see illegal immigration as the nation's most important issue. For Republican voters, it's working.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz.

In a time of deep political divisions, it stands to reason that Americans will differ on how best to answer the nation's most pressing questions. The Pew Research Center found this week, however, that Americans can't even agree on the questions.

The Pew report explained that Republican and Democratic voters "differ widely in views of the seriousness of numerous problems facing the United States, including the fairness of the criminal justice system, climate change, economic inequality, and illegal immigration."

It's one thing to differ on how to address issues; it's something else when the public is at odds over whether assorted challenges should be seen as legitimate issues at all.

Among Democratic voters, several issues were seen as "very important" national challenges: the affordability of college education (named by 71% of Dems), how the criminal justice system treats racial and ethnic minorities (71%), climate change (72%), the wealth gap (77%), ethics in government (80%), gun violence (81%), and the affordability of health care (83%).

Among Republican voters, only one issue was of comparable significance: illegal immigration. It was named by 75% of GOP voters as a "very important" national issue.

The gap between partisans raises a unique set of concerns, but Slate's Leon Krauze explained yesterday that there's simply no reason for Republicans to see illegal immigration as the #1 most important issue facing the United States.

[T]here is no evidence to support the idea that illegal immigration has become an urgent problem for the United States, much less a national security emergency. As pro-immigration advocates have repeated ad nauseam, various studies suggest that immigrants are considerably less prone to engage in criminal activity than native-born Americans. [...]Immigration is also not the economic scourge nativists claim it is. On the contrary: Various industries would collapse in the United States without the reliable low-skilled workforce long provided by undocumented immigrants.

What's more, the New York Times  reported a few months ago that the number of immigrants caught illegally trying to cross the border in 2017 was the lowest in nearly five decades. In fact, illegal border crossings began to fall years ago -- the Obama administration increased border security, a fact the right prefers to ignore -- and have since reached generational lows.

All of which leads to an obvious question: why do Republican voters see this as the nation's top issue.

The answer almost certainly has a lot to do with what their president tells them to believe. Just this morning, for example, Donald Trump described a crisis along the U.S./Mexico border, about which the president is making fresh threats. "I must, in the strongest of terms," Trump wrote, "ask Mexico to stop this onslaught - and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!"

The president soon after condemned "the assault on our country at our Southern Border."

It's tempting to think most Americans would see Trump's occasional online tantrums as largely meaningless. Republican voters, however, actually believe what he's peddling.