The sudden surge of child migrants on the southern border has thrust immigration issues atop the list of voter concerns ahead of the 2014 election, and it could end up helping Republicans.

A Gallup poll in July showed found immigration to be the most important issue for 17 percent of voters, an increase from just 5 percent in June and the highest number in eight years.

It ranked number one among “most important problems” facing the United States, above the economy and jobs.

“Immigration is obviously a hot button issue,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, told the Washington Examiner. “The question isn’t how many people think it is an important issue, the question is how many people are moved to vote over the issue and which side of the issue are those people on? To some degree, that is unknown.”

Typically the Gallup poll number would be great news for Democrats, who have long aimed to spotlight immigration in order to showcase their efforts to legalize the status of millions of Central American and Mexican immigrants. Democrats believe this will solidify their hold on the Hispanic vote and put GOP opponents of immigration reform on the spot.

But Republicans have started to turn the tables on Democrats, enabled by news stories and Images of tens of thousands of families and unaccompanied children who have walked over the border in Texas in recent months and are straining the resources of overwhelmed federal authorities and local communities.

“The conventional wisdom was a month ago that immigration reform was all good for the Democrats,” Brown said. “Well, whether that was true or not, it’s clearly not true now.”

Former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown used the border crisis this week to target Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H, who he is vying to defeat in November.

“Want to know why there is lawlessness on our border?” the Republican says in a video campaign ad. “Ask Sen. Shaheen. She voted against border security twice. And for amnesty.”

Scott Brown, who is trailing Shaheen by double digits, is hoping the immigration issue will help him gain on his opponent and recent polling suggest he has picked a winning issue.

An Ipsos survey conducted for Reuters in late July found that 82 percent of New Englanders want immigration levels to either decrease of remain the same. Another 76 percent of New Englanders said illegal immigrants posed a threat to “traditional American beliefs and customs.”

Aside from the Gallup poll, however, immigration issues generally fall at the bottom of the list of voter concerns. Other polling indicates it’s not the central focus in some places.

An August Univision survey of California voters showed immigration ranked number six, behind education, jobs, government spending, the deficit, Social Security and health care.

In a July Reuters/Ipsos poll, voters put immigration in third place among their concerns.

Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for the Cook Political Report, said the importance of immigration could increase greatly among voters in just a matter of days or weeks.

That’s when President Obama is expected to take executive action on immigration reform.

Obama has not signaled what he will do, if anything. But he is under pressure from immigration rights activists who want him to sidestep Republican opposition in Congress and legalize millions of immigrants or at least allow them to avoid deportation and obtain work permits.

“Immigration is a state by state issue now,” Duffy told the Examiner. “But, if he takes some kind of action, it could become much bigger.”

Peter A. Brown said an executive move by Obama doesn’t guarantee the GOP will benefit in November. But he said fewer minorities and young people tend to turn out in mid-term elections and they are the ones more likely to back a move by Obama to legalize millions.

“It all depends,” he said, “on who is going to vote.”