America’s quickly rising concern about immigration, in one chart

Here's some not-so-breaking news for you: When asked what the biggest problem facing the country is, Americans point to "the government" more often than anything else. "The economy" is third most cited problem. Both have consistently stood at the top of the list for the last year.

But No. 2 is a relative newcomer that shot to the top of the list earlier this summer: Immigration. Fifteen percent of Americans say immigration and illegal aliens are the biggest problem facing the country right now, according to a new Gallup poll. That's about on par with the economy (14 percent) and government/politicians/corruption (18 percent).

As the following Gallup chart indicates, immigration wasn't a big deal for most people until just a few months ago, when the influx of young illegal immigrants on the Southwest border became national news and the subject of much debate in Washington. Then, concern skyrocketed.

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Of course, not everyone who thinks immigration is a "problem" agrees on why. Many people have long wanted to see Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform that President Obama has championed. Others blame Obama for allowing the border crisis to grow unchecked for many months.

The bottom line, in the political sphere at least, is that immigration is on the minds of many people as the midterms approach -- many more than most close watchers would have predicted a year go. As The Post's David Nakamura and Sebastian Payne reported last week, we're already beginning to see the issue play out on the campaign trail.

As to which party it benefits -- that's the million dollar question that remains to be answered.

One on hand, Republicans now have a concrete target in Obama, who has absorbed a lot of blame for the border crisis. They can continue to run against him on what they see as immigration and border policies that have been too lax, firing up the conservative base along the way.

On the other hand, moderate voters who have long demanded comprehensive reform may be turned off by the GOP's rhetoric. And even if that attack doesn't hurt the party this fall, it could still sting the GOP in 2016. Party strategists are concerned that Latino voters -- who make up a growing share of the electorate, and have overwhelmingly voted for the Democratic nominee for president in the last two elections -- could become even more Democratic if Republicans don't soften their tone and embrace a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

As the Gallup poll shows, concerns about immigration have dipped a bit since last month. But if they stay about as high as they are right now, get ready for a lot more immigration talk between Labor Day and Nov. 4.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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