A yearly Pew poll taking America’s pulse ahead of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union found that illegal immigration has slipped as a priority.

In 2007, a full 55 percent of Americans listed illegal immigration as a top priority. Today, that number is only 39 percent, down seven points from 2011, according to the Pew Research Center poll. Fifteen priorities ranked higher than illegal immigration, including the economy, education, tax fairness, health care costs, moral breakdown, and the influence of lobbyists.

This drop was even more stark among Republicans: in 2007, 69 percent of Republicans ranked it as a top priority, second only to terrorism, but this year that number had dropped to 48 percent.

Richard Dunham, writing at the Houston Chronicle‘s Texas on the Potomac blog, pointed out that GOP presidential candidates, despite this shift in public priorities, have “veer[ed] sharply to the right as they denounce people entering (and living in) the United States without legal permission.” The Huffington Post‘s Elisa Foley concurred: “During the race for the GOP nomination, candidates have been jockeying to appear the toughest on immigration.”

What are some GOP solutions? Mitt Romney would veto the DREAM Act, Herman Cain would build a border fence, and Newt Gingrich would “militarize” the border.

In Monday night’s debate, Romney slightly pivoted on his stance (surprise) on deportation, saying he hoped immigrants would deport themselves, CBS News reported

The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here.

And so we’re not going to round people up.