Economy

Fuel Prices Now Clearly Americans’ No. 2 Concern

by Lydia Saad

The economy/jobs still the top-mentioned problem facing America

PRINCETON, NJ -- The high cost of fuel has eclipsed Iraq as the second highest ranking issue on Gallup's monthly "Most Important Problem" list, after roughly tying Iraq at No. 2 in May, and ranking third prior to that. The 25% citing fuel and energy prices in June as the nation's top problem is up from 17% in May and 6% in January.

According to the June 9-12 Gallup Poll, the economy/jobs retains its position as No. 1, with the percentage of Americans citing the overall economic climate exceeding 40% for the fifth straight month. Top-of-mind concern about the Iraq conflict, now 20%, is down slightly from the start of the year, and is much lower than it was a year ago.

Long-Term Trends in Most Important Problem

Total economic mentions are about as high today as they have been at any time since the start of George W. Bush's presidency in January 2001.

The highest proportion citing the economy as the most important problem in the Bush era was 48% in May 2003 and April 2008. However, on a longer-term basis, Americans' current level of economic concern -- based on their "most important problem" response -- still lags behind what Gallup found at times between 1982 and early 1984, and from 1991 to 1992 (as well as in 1945). This may reflect the fact that there are other substantial issues of concern to the public right now (Iraq and gas prices) that compete with the economy for the public's focus, which may not have been the case at other times.

The contrast between Americans' focus on problems today versus in the past is even more striking in terms of fuel prices and other cost-of-living issues. Currently 25% of Americans mention fuel prices, specifically, and an additional 6% mention the related issue of inflation or the high cost of living generally as the nation's top problem. That falls well below the 50% or more of Americans citing these issues at multiple times between 1973 and 1981. In October 1978 a remarkable 83% of Americans cited inflation or fuel prices as the nation's top problem.

U.S. Satisfaction Hovering Near Rock Bottom

The same poll finds only 14% of Americans saying they are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States today, only two percentage points off the record low reported by Gallup in 1979. This month's satisfaction figure is identical to last month's, but is down from 24% in January.

The last time a majority of Americans were satisfied with the direction of the country was in January 2004. Except for a few brief rebounds, Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the country has essentially been in decline since early 2002.

Most of the recent decline in U.S. satisfaction can be attributed to Republicans who, after maintaining a relatively high level of satisfaction in 2007, finally succumbed to a more negative perspective in 2008. Currently, 26% of Republicans say they are satisfied with the direction of the country, compared with 8% of Democrats and 9% of independents. Thus, the only way satisfaction could drop much further is if Republicans become even more discouraged about the nation -- unlikely with a Republican still in the White House.

Bottom Line

Americans' satisfaction with the country is about depleted, their focus on energy costs as the nation's top problem appears to be rising, and their concerns about the economy, generally, and the Iraq situation are not going away.

Still, as Gallup records show, Americans' economic anxiety (as expressed by their naming economic issues as the worst problems facing the country) has been much higher, historically. Americans' economic mood looks bad now, but it appears that it could be even worse.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 822 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 9-12, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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