As much of the U.S. government remains shut down over President Donald Trump's insistence on funding for his border wall, nearly half of Americans identify immigration as a top issue for the government to work on this year.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted shortly before the shutdown began finds that both Republicans and Democrats are far more likely to include immigration in their list of top issues facing the country this year compared with a year ago.
Overall, 49 percent mentioned immigration in an open-ended question as one of the top five problems they hoped the government addresses in 2019. By contrast, 27 percent mentioned immigration in December 2017.
Partisan divides on the best solutions remain deep. Republicans continue to be more likely to cite immigration as a top issue than Democrats, an indication of the GOP's greater intensity on the issue. But it's an increasingly important issue to members of both parties.
The poll found that 65 percent of Republicans say immigration is one of the top five problems facing the country, up from 42 percent in 2017. Among Democrats, 37 percent cite immigration as a top issue, compared with just 2 in 10 a year ago.
Roughly two-thirds of those who named immigration as a top priority express little confidence in the government to make progress this year, including a third who say they are "not at all" confident. About a third say they are at least moderately confident in the government to make progress on immigration. This follows a year of intermittent deadlocked negotiations and standoffs between Trump and Democrats in Congress.
Although both Democrats and Republicans are increasingly likely to name immigration-related issues as top priorities for the government, other polls show that their opinions on the issue diverge dramatically. For example, a December poll by CNN found that 78 percent of Republicans and just 8 percent of Democrats supported building a border wall.
And with their party still in control of the White House and the Senate, Republicans are more optimistic about the government making progress on immigration this year. Among those who prioritize immigration, Republicans are more than three times as likely as Democrats to express some confidence that the government will make progress. That includes David Hoyt, a 77-year-old retired school superintendent and registered Republican in eastern Iowa.
"We waste too many resources with illegal aliens," Hoyt said. "If people want to come here, let's have them do it legally. I don't understand why people don't understand the word 'illegal.'"
Hoyt says he's also focused on the economy, and its healthy state is why he's satisfied with the country's direction and Trump's performance.
"People are busy," Hoyt said. "I can tell the economy from the number of semis on the highway, and it's loaded."
Chris Butino, 31, is a Democrat and a firefighter in Cortland, New York, who's been disappointed by Trump's rhetoric and actions on immigration, especially against refugees. Trump has sharply curtailed the number of refugees accepted by the U.S. and taken steps to limit who can claim asylum as more migrants from Central America try to do so at the Mexican border.
"We're America — we're the wealthiest nation in the world in terms of resources, and saying we're not going to take in the poor, huddled masses," Butino said. "We can maintain our own safety, but we can also be generous."
The economy remains a top priority for Americans, with 62 percent citing related issues, including mentions of jobs, unemployment, taxes and trade.
Nearly half of Americans also identify health care as one of the top five issues facing the country, unchanged from one year ago. A traditionally Democratic issue, health care is named by Democrats more than Republicans (56 percent versus 43 percent).
There was a sharp rise in environmental and climate issues after a year of wildfires and hurricanes, a change that is largely driven by Democrats. Overall, about a quarter of Americans mention the environment as a top issue. About 4 in 10 Democrats include the environment as a priority, compared with just 8 percent of Republicans. The share of Democrats naming the environment has grown 11 percentage points since a year ago.
The poll was conducted in December before the stock market gyrations and government shutdown. Gil Parks, a retired CPA who's become a rancher in Texas, is fine with the shutdown.
"It's only 25 percent of the government," he said.
Parks, a 59-year-old Republican, is optimistic the country could be in for a long stretch of economic growth, in part because of the partisan acrimony fueling the shutdown.
"If you look back in history, the economy did best when government couldn't get in the way," he said.
With Democrats assuming control of the House of Representatives, the inevitable gridlock could preserve the economic expansion, Parks argued.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to be optimistic, but feelings about the country are mixed even within the GOP. Six in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country as a whole, including 79 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of Republicans. Among Republicans, that's a slight increase from 33 percent who were dissatisfied with the state of the country in October. Still, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats today to say they're satisfied with the way things are going in the country, 39 percent to 9 percent.
The unhappiness on both sides of the aisle is palpable to John Rossetti, a 47-year-old code enforcement officer in Youngstown, Ohio.
"There's a really different, negative environment," Rossetti said. "Everywhere you go, it's there — just a very negative atmosphere."
Rossetti describes himself as a moderate to conservative Democrat who didn't support Trump in 2016 but was rooting for him to succeed. Now he's disillusioned and pessimistic about the future, and he's not alone. Americans are more likely to think things in the country will get worse in the next year than that they will get better, 42 percent to 32 percent.
More Americans do think 2019 will be a better year for them personally than think it will get worse, 37 percent to 18 percent, but another 45 percent say there won't be much difference.
Rossetti has only had two small raises in the past 12 years he's worked for Youngstown, yet his health insurance premiums keep rising.
"I don't think I'm doing better," Rossetti said. "I feel like I'm doing what I need to do to stay afloat."
The AP-NORC poll of 1,067 adults was conducted Dec. 13-16 using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org/