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Is immigration a priority? A Gallup polls says it depends on whom you ask

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, the election turns on many issues, one of which is immigration. Pollsters at Gallup have been asking people over time which issues they consider most important, and in 2024, it is a mix. But in that mix, immigration is the top for more people than any other issue, with 27% of voters surveyed saying that's No. 1 for them. Some voters have heard stories of asylum-seekers at the border or crime that is blamed on migrants. Megan Brenan was Gallup's lead researcher.

MEGAN BRENAN: Well, this is the third month in a row now that we've seen immigration top the most important problem list, and that is the longest stretch that we've seen for immigration over the past 24 years.

INSKEEP: Is immigration higher on the list for some voter groups than others?

BRENAN: It certainly is. It is a lot higher among Republicans than it is among Democrats. So that's another striking finding that we got out of this poll.

INSKEEP: I'm not surprised by that finding, but I always want to know why. Do you feel you have an insight as to why Republicans would be more worried or more interested in immigration at this time than Democrats are?

BRENAN: I don't have anything polling-wise to offer, but we can see that it is clearly a focus of the Trump campaign.

INSKEEP: Where does immigration fall among independent voters, people who, at least in theory, might conceivably choose either major presidential candidate or some third-party candidate?

BRENAN: Sure. So in the latest poll, compared to the 48% of Republicans and 8% of Democrats who mentioned it as the most important problem, we had 25% of independents. So they're closer, and they have been closer to Democrats. But still, a significantly higher percentage of independents are mentioning it. This is the highest that we've seen for independents in the current poll.

INSKEEP: That would seem like a message to Democrats. It sounds to me like if you are a Democratic officeholder, you cannot say, this is just a concern of Republicans who are never going to vote for me anyway. There are some independent voters that I might want who are concerned about this issue.

BRENAN: Exactly. And it's rising among independents, whereas, you know, we've seen a little bit of a fall off among Republicans in the last month or two. It's still their top issue, but, you know, it's been going up among independents over that time period.

INSKEEP: When we've interviewed voters, I've noticed really complicated thoughts that people have about immigration. Do the results change if you refer to people as illegal immigrants as opposed to asylum-seekers or whatever other term you might put on them?

BRENAN: Yeah, that's a good point. So we asked a question last June about whether Americans are sympathetic towards illegal immigrants in the United States versus people from other countries who traveled to the United States in an attempt to enter the country. So we got a significantly higher percentage of people who were sympathetic to those who were coming to the U.S. border to enter the country versus illegal immigrants. So that's exactly right. It's all in how you refer to people, as well.

INSKEEP: Has there been any recent election year in which immigration ranked as the top issue ultimately?

BRENAN: No, so this is the first one that we've seen that happen. And this sustained power it seems to have now, the sustained mentions of it as the top issue are really a unique thing, as is the partisan gap. So this is the largest partisan gap we've seen on any issue in the last 25 years.

INSKEEP: Megan Brenan of Gallup, thanks so much.

BRENAN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Now, on MORNING EDITION, we are hearing border stories - never telling you what to think but giving you information to help you decide on many sides of a complicated issue. Yesterday, we met one migrant family on their way across the border. Later this week, we will investigate stories of migrant crime, which drive some of those poll results. Tomorrow, we'll hear how U.S. immigration law applies to people arriving at the border.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I mean, that's sort of why many people think that the border crisis is actually an asylum crisis, that just invoking the word asylum then lets you enter the U.S. Then you're sent for a hearing, which may last years. And then, at the end of that hearing, even if you're not granted asylum, the chances of being removed are very low.

INSKEEP: Border stories on MORNING EDITION. Listen on your radio or stream on your smartphone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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