I’ve asked before whether immigration is going to be a key issue this campaign season and determined that it might be, especially if framed in terms of jobs and the economy. That, at least, is what our May poll suggests, with “improve the economy” registering as the second-most important issue for voters, behind education — and immigration dropping to a 7th-place tie with “gas prices.”
I think, in fact, that both issues — immigration and gas prices — are much more important than this poll indicates because both issues affect nearly everything else. For instance, high fuel prices are contributing to price inflation in every sector, including healthcare (“lower healthcare costs” was # 5). Likewise, gas prices are hurting economic growth in some sectors, thus impacting jobs (#3) and the economy (#2). Immigration has the same uber-impact.
All that being said, let’s face the facts. Immigration has not really been an issue in the presidential campaign. John McCain, to put it politely, is “pragmatic” when it comes to immigration enforcement and reform, which is to say that he is lukewarm. For his part, Obama wants an amnesty.
At the Congressional level many candidates simply don’t want to talk about immigration. As Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) confessed to the AP news yesterday: “You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to really get out front on an issue that isn’t really going anywhere and my opponent can demagogue it and misrepresent my position?’ If you’re going to go out on a limb on something, there has to be a payoff, and on this, there just isn’t.”
Flake’s comments aside, immigration will be a more important issue for North Carolina than it will be in the national race.
Still, Flake’s comments remind us that there are two poles to the immigration debate: for conservatives, it boils down to the rule of law; for liberals, it boils down to race.
For the media, race baiting is a lot more entertaining than the “rule of law.” Hence, most news coverage of this issue, as John Hood recently pointed out, is biased. This scares a lot of candidates.
The electorate, however, is more intelligent about immigration than is the media. They intuit, for instance, that opposition to illegal immigration has nothing whatsoever to do with race. They also intuit that immigration reform is about asking everyone to play by the same rules.
Contrary to what the pundits, and even the politicians are saying, immigration will continue to be a key issue for voters. But voters need to be shown the big picture, to be told how illegal immigration is undermining the law, hurting the economy and compromising America’s future. These are things that the voters intuit as well — let’s hope they act upon this intuition in the fall.