Republican congressional members’ constituents care more about immigration and border security than any other issue, according to a new congressional insiders poll.
Seventeen of the 37 Republican House and Senate members who responded to the National Journal’s survey identified immigration as the issue “most on the minds of your constituents these days.” That easily topped the next closest issue, the economy, which gained 10 votes, followed by gasoline prices with four votes and terrorism with three votes.
One Republican called immigration the “highest-octane issue in America,” while another said, “It is here that the mismatch between the federal government’s inaction and the realities at home is the greatest.”
Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Republican who runs the House Immigration Reform Caucus, has said other members of Congress have come up to him recently and said immigration is a dominant issue when they return home for recess periods.
“It will be interesting to see at what point critical mass is achieved — when enough people in this country have made enough noise and expressed enough frustration to their elected representatives that it breaks the logjam here in Congress but, more importantly, in the White House,” he said yesterday after reviewing the National Journal poll numbers.
The National Journal, a weekly publication about federal politics and policy, occasionally polls a group of more than 100 members of Congress, and 72 responded to the question about constituents’ priorities. All responses are anonymous. The poll is printed in the issue dated July 16.
By contrast, none of the 37 Republicans who responded said Social Security was the top issue on constituents’ minds, despite President Bush’s efforts over the last six months to tout his plan to offer private accounts as part of younger workers’ Social Security plan.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, said the results show the issue is growing outside of the border states, where it has been bubbling for some time.
“We’re happily surprised,” Mr. Stewart said. “Over the last few years part of the difficulty has been trying to explain to non-border state folks that immigration affects them as well.”
Immigration doesn’t appear to move Democrats the same way it moves Republicans. Of 35 Democratic members of Congress who responded, just two mentioned immigration as the top issue for constituents, while another person specifically disregarded immigration, saying his or her constituents were talking about “all of these issues except immigration.”
One of the two Democrats who did cite immigration as the top constituent concern said it is a difficult balancing act. “The burning question of ‘What can we do to simultaneously support the plight of undocumented immigrants while still keeping our streets and borders safe?’ has never been more prevalent,” the lawmaker said.
“Immigration is a problem issue for the Democrats — no one wants to say they embrace breaking the law and sacrificing national security,” Mr. Tancredo said. “It makes sense that their leadership is dancing around this issue.”