The Immigration Obsession

Kevin Drum quotes the LA Times' analysis: "More than any other question, Republican presidential candidates are asking voters to consider a single issue in the weeks before primary voting begins: Who detests illegal immigration the most?" Indeed, but what's a bit hard to see is why they're doing this? I know there are some people here in DC who seem convinced that the Republicans can ride the immigration issue to victory in 2008, even though this is exactly the strategy they tried in 2006, and the evidence suggests that people don't care very much about immigration:

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That's from the latest Washington Post poll where they asked people to name the two issues they thought were most important. It's clear that the public's main priorities are national security (to wit: Iraq and terrorism) and the deteriorating economic situation. Only ten percent see immigration as one of the two most important issues. Now if you assume that about 33 percent of the population are Republicans, and also that all ten percent of the people who are naming immigration are restrictionist Republicans (and this is clearly an overestimate -- some restrictionists are Democrats, and some people who think immigration is important aren't restrictionists) that's still only thirty percent of Republicans putting a high priority on immigration restrictionism as an issue. As the Post puts it, "Overall, five issues, including immigration and health care, reach double digits as top one or two concerns among Republicans" but they barely say anything about these other issues -- instead they quibble about who's a real conservative, they talk smack about Hillary Clinton, and they brag about how much they hate immigrants. It's bizarre.

E.J. Dionne's right that "a backlash against illegal immigration could help some Republicans running for Congress" but could help some people running for congress seems like a thin rationale for making an impractical and inhumane stand on an issue of secondary concern to the public the centerpiece of your party's political strategy.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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