For the second time in two surveys, immigration ranked as the 10th-most important issue to voters this election cycle, according to a survey released Monday by the Utah Foundation.
The nonprofit research group has been doing issue-based voter surveys since 2004 during each gubernatorial election cycle. The previous survey was in 2010, when immigration ranked 10th as well. That was a drop from its ranking of fifth in 2008.
Utah Foundation Research Director Morgan Lyon Cotti said the fall and subsequent leveling off is likely related to a slowing rate of illegal immigration into the country as the nation’s economy has sputtered.
“If immigration keeps tapering off, it’s less of an issue,” Cotti said. “It just won’t be as present in people’s minds.”
Cotti said the issue ranked highest in importance among voters older than 65 and who identified themselves as conservative.
She also said state-based attention on the issue doesn’t necessarily translate into it being at the forefront of voters’ minds. She said that in the 2012 Legislature, public lands was a key focus for state lawmakers and yet, the issue didn’t crack the top 10.
But Utah has been an active state on the immigration front.
In 2011, Gov. Gary Herbert signed a series of bills aimed at tackling the issue of immigration — including the controversial enforcement-only law, HB497, which is currently tied up in federal court.
The state also passed HB116, a guest-worker law that has yet to go into effect, and lawmakers rebuffed attempts to repeal in-state tuition at colleges for illegal immigrants.
Lawmakers also created the Utah Commission on Immigration and Migration, which has met several times this year in an attempt, among other things, to help guide the Legislature on future bills related to the issue.
Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, sits on the commission and said she isn’t surprised immigration ranked 10th, well off the pace of issues like jobs and the economy. She also thinks the state’s actions on the issue — adopting HB116 and The Utah Compact, aimed at guiding the state’s immigration reform toward being humane and reasonable — were a factor in its ranking.
“There is less urgency in terms of people seeing a need for statewide immigration reform, and a lot of that comes down to things like The Utah Compact and the legislation passed with HB116,” she said. “I think people saw the work being done, and they’re now more concerned where they are in terms of their own economic status.”