Politicians from all parties have traditionally struggled to make their rhetoric on immigration chime with the British public's views. New findings from Ipsos MORI showing a divergence of public opinion on the subject, may explain why.
When asked if the issue of immigration has been discussed too much, too little, or about the right amount, a quarter (26%) say too much and a similar proportion say the right amount (28%). The greatest proportion of people (43%) say that immigration has been discussed too little. Back in April 2011 when the British public were asked the same question, 62% thought that immigration was discussed too little (a fall of 19 points). Meanwhile, the number of those who think it has been discussed too much has more than doubled in that time, from just 11% then to 26% now.
These findings not only illustrate that there is an increasing proportion of those who are tired of the discourse on immigration, but also suggest that they are significantly outnumbered by those who think the issue is not being discussed enough. This polarisation of opinion has a clear political aspect to it. Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters are more likely to think immigration has been discussed too much (30% and 40% respectively), compared with Conservative and UKIP supporters (19% and 11% respectively).
Aside from people's views on the level of debate, how satisfied do Britons feel with the government's performance on immigration? The satisfaction ratings are far more pointed and show that relatively little has changed over time. Just under two-thirds are dissatisfied with the way the government is dealing with immigration and asylum (64%), closely in line with February's results (62%). But there is some encouragement for the government too: only 23% say they are satisfied - but that is actually a record high since we started tracking satisfaction in the mid-2000s.
On a party political level, it is unsurprising that nearly all UKIP supporters are dissatisfied with the government's performance (90%). However, it is worth noting that 58% of Conservative supporters also share this view, and they are only marginally less dissatisfied than Labour supporters (65%). This is unusual because salient public policy issues such as immigration have traditionally inspired greater divergence in attitudes between the governing party and opposition supporters.
These results follow last month's announcement of a significant rise in the level of net migration, largely fuelled by EU immigration that the UK government has little control over.
The likelihood of the government meeting its target to reduce net migration by the end of the current Parliament is low, and leaves UKIP as the alternative option for those who want to see this type of reduction achieved.
While it remains to be seen whether UKIP's stance on the EU (and by proxy, immigration) will exert enough of an appeal to seriously damage the support base of the major parties, one thing is clear; there is no respite in the level of people's frustration about the way immigration is handled in the UK. The level of public debate will do little to change that.