WASHINGTON -- The chief problems in our country that voters worry about most are jobs, the economy, health care and government mismanagement.
When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency last year, the first problem he raised and made his dominant issue was illegal immigrants from Mexico. But that wasn't a major public concern at the time -- not even close, according to the Gallup Poll -- and it still isn't.
Gallup regularly polls the issues that are among voters' greatest concerns, and soon after the real estate tycoon pushed immigration into the forefront of the news media's attention on June 16, 2015, Frank Newport, the polling firm's editor-in-chief, wrote an analysis that said this:
"For one thing, we know that immigration is not seen as the top problem facing the nation today by most Americans, but it is perceived as an important issue." Just "seven percent of Americans say immigration is the most important problem facing the country today."
In March, Newport said, "We gave Americans a list of 15 problems and asked how much they personally worry about each. 'Illegal immigration' was ninth on the list, with 39 percent saying they worried about it 'a great deal.'
"That contrasts with the top problems -- health care and the economy -- about which 54 percent and 53 percent, respectively, of the public said they worried about a great deal," he wrote.
Since then, for the most part the Gallup poll has shown that the economy, jobs and government still remain the big issues facing our country, with immigration further down on the list.
If anything, Trump's focus on illegal immigration and his plan to deport an estimated 11 million illegal Hispanics has become a problem for his own campaign. Polls show that he's losing the lion's share of the Hispanic vote, the largest ethnic voting bloc in the U.S. electorate.
And it has become an issue for many American voters who think his proposed mass deportation of millions of Hispanics and their families, who have lived and worked here for 10, 20, 30 years or more, have never committed a crime and contributed to our economy, is a bit extreme.
Apparently Trump and some of his new advisers think so, too, because he has begun signaling that he may be open to "softening" his deportation plan.
The candidate began his presidential bid last year by saying that all illegal immigrants "have to go," and that he would establish a nationwide, police-style "deportation force" to round them up and send them back to their native countries.
But at a town hall gathering on Tuesday hosted by Fox News in Austin, Texas, Trump said he was open to "softening" the immigration laws for illegals who have established roots here and lived law-abiding lives.
"Did he use the word 'soften'"? an incredulous Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a Trump backer, asked reporters who sought his reaction to the candidate's unexpected remark.
But Trump appears to be playing down or avoiding any mention of deportations lately, notably during a rally on the Florida State Fairgrounds on Wednesday. He touched on it only briefly in terms of protecting jobs and focusing only on those who have criminal records.
His new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, may be influencing his shift. When asked Sunday if Trump was going to readjust his position on mass deportations, she coyly replied, "To be determined."
"What he supports is to make sure we enforce the law ... and that we are fair and humane for those who live among us in this country," Conway said.
Trump told Fox News that he was "not flip-flopping" on the issue, but added, "We want to come up with a really fair but firm answer."
What brought about the change in tone? The answer can be found in half a dozen major, head-to-head polls on the Real Clear Politics website, showing Hillary Clinton leading Trump by margins of 5 to 8 percent.
While we wait for Trump and his curious crew to figure out just where they stand on this issue, the voters remain far more focused on what's important to them -- like a spendthrift government drowning in nearly $20 trillion in debt, threatening our country's economic survival as never before.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a new report this week that projects the budget deficit this fiscal year will be close to $600 billion -- one-third higher than last year's deficit.
The CBO projects that the budget deficit will rise to $1.2 trillion by 2026 unless fiscal policies are changed. Among other things, CBO blames the mushrooming deficit on a weakening Obama economy and lower-than-expected tax revenue.
Economic growth has slowed to a crawl in President Obama's last year in office, coming in at little more than 1 percent in the first and second quarters. And the CBO estimates that the economy will grow by just 1.7 percent, at best, over the next two years under present policies.
In his new book, "Full Faith and Credit: The National Debt, Taxes, Spending, and the Bankrupting of America," historian Alan Axelrod paints a gloomy portrait of our country's future.
Calling the mounting debt load "the greatest threat to American security and prosperity" in our history, Axelrod says that the human cost will be measured in "families imperiled, aspirations thwarted, hope of promising futures abandoned."
This is one of the important issues that Americans really worry about -- and that both presidential candidates are ignoring to our peril.