Two fascinating findings from today's Pew Research Center survey on the public's top priorities: Both President Obama and leading Republican presidential candidates are focused on two issues that are rapidly becoming less important to most voters: global warming/environment and illegal immigration.
The survey found that only 39 percent of voters view illegal immigration as a "top priority" for the president and Congress this year, a 16 point dropoff from January 2007. The number of Republicans considering it a top issue also has plummeted. In 2007, it was the second-most important issue for Republicans, with 69 percent rating it as a top priority. Now only 48 percent of Republicans view it the same way.
A similar downward spiral has taken place on the issues of the environment and global warming. In the mid-1990s, Bill Clinton once used environmental issues as a wedge to win over independents and suburbanites disenchanted with the Republicans' opposition to any type of regulations. Now Republicans hold the upper hand on the issue: With the economy stagnant, voters appear to favor economic growth and lower regulations over environmental protections.
In January 2007, 57 percent rated the environment as a top issue. That number has tumbled to 43 percent. Only one-quarter of voters rate global warming as a top priority, down 13 points from five years ago.
These findings raise questions about both President Obama and Mitt Romney's tactics on each of these issues. Obama has put the environmental issues at the top of his priority list, most recently canceling the Keystone XL pipeline out of concerns for environmental protection - and perhaps more important, because of loud howls from the liberal base.
But there's no indication that it's a winning political issue for him. Most Americans consider the economy and jobs far more important than the environment theses days. This already has become a potent issue for Republicans to attack the administration on. And in the 2010 midterms, Democratic support for a cap-and-trade system played a pivotal role in many House Democratic defeats - particularly those from the electorally-important Rust Belt.
Meanwhile, illegal immigration, fast becoming a litmus test issue for Republicans, has dropped far down on the list of priorities, even among GOP voters. It's striking that Romney has positioned himself to the right of Gingrich on the issue, even though it could cost him support from Hispanic voters in a general election. (It's also an issue where Romney's border security hawkishness doesn't come across as particularly authentic.)
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