Smaller Majority Calls Economy “Most Important Problem”

by Lydia Saad

Two-thirds cite some aspect of the economy, down from 86% in February

PRINCETON, NJ -- About two-thirds of Americans, down from 76% last month and 86% in February, say the economy -- or a specific aspect of it -- is the most important problem facing the United States today.


According to the May 7-10 Gallup Poll, this is the first month since economic concern surged last fall that fewer than 70% of Americans have named the economy, overall, as the nation's top problem. The finding coincides with significant improvement in public attitudes about the economy, with Gallup's Consumer Mood Index hitting a 16-month high last week. Still, the economy remains the undisputed issue of concern to Americans on Gallup's monthly Most Important Problem measure, with no other single issue named by more than 9%.

The current 69% mentioning some aspect of the economy includes 47% citing the economy in general and 14% citing unemployment or the jobs situation. Seven percent mention "lack of money" and 5% the federal budget deficit, while 2% name taxes.


Non-Economic Concerns

The top non-economic problems on Gallup's Most Important Problem list this month are the situation in Iraq and healthcare, both named by 9% of Americans. These are closely followed by government leadership (8%) and moral/religious decline (7%).


Mentions of several non-economic issues have increased since April, offsetting the seven-point decline in the percentage of Americans naming economic problems as the nation's biggest challenge. The poll documents a three-point increase over the past month in those citing the Iraq conflict, and a two-point increase in those citing other conflicts in the Middle East, with most of those centering on the war in Afghanistan.

Debate over healthcare reform has heated up in Washington these past few weeks, but it does not appear to have spilled over to the public. Although it now ties Iraq as the top non-economic issue, the 9% of Americans currently citing healthcare is not much greater than the 7% last month, and is down from 12% in March. This contrasts with 31% naming healthcare reform as the nation's top problem in January 1994, after then-President Clinton in his State of the Union address highlighted healthcare reform as a top goal for his administration.

The percentage citing "dissatisfaction with government" is also up slightly.

Gallup has tracked public perceptions about the country's most important problem monthly since January 2001, and on a periodic basis since 1939.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,015 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 7-10, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 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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