I was reading Democracy Corps strategy memo ringing the alarm bells about immigration as a political issue to try to get a handle on this topic. They're very worried and commence their packet of graphs with this one:
But of course, absent context it's hard to interpret this information. My guess is that most people are inclined to say just about anything is "important" if asked specifically about it in isolation. One way or another, the apparent uniformity of the answer there masks an enormous diversity of actual views:
One thing you have to ask yourself when looking at this is whether or not you think Democratic groups like African-Americans, union households, and single women are poised to abandon the Democratic Party over immigration. With regard to African-Americans, at least, I think we can confidently say that the answer is "no." With the other groups, I don't really know how to answer the question. It's interesting, though, that union members seem to be so out of step with the official positions of most union leaders on this topic. Last, there's this poll:
This graph plays to my prejudices. But since I found it in the midst of an analysis designed to play against my prejudices, I find it pretty noteworthy. And, of course, it backs up other surveys indicating that the immigration issue only really plays with a minority of the public. And, of course, it's now well known that immigration is the biggest concern in areas where immigration is a new phenomenon and my guesstimate is that this leaves the target audience pretty small: Most Americans either aren't white or else live in lily-white areas or else live in highly-diverse big metro areas.
Of course I might be wrong about that. But given the cross-cutting nature of the immigration issue vis-a-vis both ideological and partisan groups, I'm not sure it makes real political sense to think about what "the Democrats" or "the Republicans" should do about this. The way the issue plays, politically, clearly has a lot to do with the demographics of the constituency at hand. I don't have a problem with the idea of House candidates who represent strongly anti-immigration districts deciding they need to take a hard line. But the leap from "hard-line anti-immigration views are politically vital in some congressional districts" to "Democrats should all panic about immigration" seems like a large one to take, despite its popularity.