Economy Still Trumps, but Declines Further as Top Problem

by Lymari Morales

Mentions of healthcare increase slightly amid legislative debate

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Two-thirds of Americans (65%), when asked in an open-ended fashion, continue to name economic problems as the most important problem facing the country -- but this number has steadily declined from 86% in February.


Mentions of the economy in Gallup's June update on this question match the net total mentions from June of last year, prior to the global economic collapse. The "net percent mentioning economic problems" reflects the total percentage of respondents who cite some aspect of the economy as the nation's most important problem. The single most frequently mentioned concern more broadly -- a general reference to the economy -- is down from 47% in May to 41% now. Specific mentions of unemployment are steady at 14%.


Despite the increase in gas prices since May, only 1% name fuel/oil prices as the most important problem facing the country. This pales in comparison to the 25% who mentioned fuel and oil prices in June of last year, when gas prices reached $4 or more per gallon in many parts of the country.


Among non-economic issues, mentions of healthcare increased slightly this month to 14%, from 9% in May, tying the aforementioned level of concern about unemployment. The increase is coincident with escalating news coverage of the debate over healthcare reform on Capitol Hill, though 12% did mention healthcare in March. Gallup's complete trend on this question reveals that mentions of healthcare increased significantly in 1993 and 1994, when Hillary Clinton made her attempt at healthcare reform during her husband's administration. If healthcare continues to dominate the news agenda in the months ahead, the percentage of Americans who mention it as the nation's most important problem can be expected to rise further.


With the most recent increase, healthcare tops all other non-economic items mentioned, easily beating out the situation in Iraq and broader international and domestic issues.

Bottom Line

While still high at 65%, Americans' level of concern about the economy has declined steadily over the past few months. This decline coincides with an increase in the number of Americans in Gallup Poll Daily tracking saying the economy is getting better, suggesting that Americans may in fact be feeling less negative about the country's economic situation. At the same time, it is possible that Americans have adjusted their expectations to a "new normal" and have thus become less likely than they were earlier this year to perceive the poor economy as the nation's most pressing problem.

Americans' level of concern over healthcare is up, though only slightly compared to March. It will be interesting to monitor whether this number will continue to increase amid the ongoing legislative debate over healthcare reform. It has a long way to go to match the level of concern recorded in the early '90s, though this was before 9/11 brought a whole host of additional international and national security concerns to the forefront.

Compared to a year ago, Americans are far less worried about fuel/oil prices, though again this may be a readjusting of expectations relative to all of the economic turmoil the country has experienced over the past calendar year. Additionally, concern about gas prices as the nation's top problem may be low for the simple reason that gas prices have not reached nearly as high a level as they did last summer.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,011 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 14-17, 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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