Politics

Americans See More Priorities Vying for Obama’s Attention

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Economy still top issue, but Iraq and Afghanistan, healthcare, deficit up

PRINCETON, NJ -- When given a choice of five issues, 4 in 10 Americans name the economy as the top priority for Barack Obama as president, easily the top percentage. However, that is down sharply from 64% in a poll conducted just after Obama was elected last November.

2008-2009 Trend: Which of the Following Should Be Barack Obama's Top Priority as President?

"Healthcare, which was barely on the public's radar last fall but has been the focus of the Obama domestic policy agenda in recent months, has shown the biggest increase, from 5% to 17%."

The drop in the percentage mentioning the economy as Obama's top priority coincides with Americans' more optimistic assessments about the nation's economic course now compared to last November, in part because the financial crisis has eased.

Gallup has seen a similar decline in concern about the economy over the course of 2009 in its monthly "most important problem" question.

With fewer Americans naming the economy as Obama's top priority, the Oct. 16-19 USA Today/Gallup poll finds increases in the percentage of Americans naming the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the federal budget deficit, and healthcare. Healthcare, which was barely on the public's radar last fall but has been the focus of the Obama domestic policy agenda in recent months, has shown the biggest increase, from 5% to 17%.

Equal percentages of Republicans and Democrats (40%) name the economy as the top priority for Obama. The two parties differ in the extent to which they assign importance to healthcare (more important among Democrats, 30% to 10%) and the federal budget deficit (more important among Republicans, 23% to 5%). Healthcare also ranks as a fairly low priority among independents, at 11%.

Top Priority for Obama, by Party Affiliation

In last year's poll, at least 6 in 10 Republicans, Democrats, and independents named the economy as Obama's top priority; thus, all three groups show at least 20-point declines on this issue in the current poll. The most dramatic change in rated issue importance among party groups is the sharp increase in the percentage of Democrats who view healthcare as the top priority, from 6% to 30%. Also, the percentage of Republicans naming the deficit as the top Obama administration priority has doubled since last year, from 10% to 23%.

Top Priority for Obama, by Party Affiliation, 2008 vs. 2009

The current poll included a larger sample of blacks, and among this group, healthcare ranks a fairly close second to the economy as the top priority, 38% to 29%. Fewer whites (15%) than blacks mention healthcare as the top priority, while more name the federal budget deficit and situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Top Priority for Obama, by Race, 2009

Bottom Line

Americans continue to rank the economy as the Obama administration's top priority, but the percentage doing so has been cut by about one-third since last fall, perhaps because Americans' fears about the state of the economy have eased. Since Obama won the election, a greater proportion of Americans have come to view healthcare, the federal budget deficit, and the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan as greater priorities for the president. Healthcare and Afghanistan promise to take on even greater significance in the coming weeks as Congress hammers out a healthcare bill and Obama prepares to announce the next steps for United States' military policy in Afghanistan.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,521 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 16-19, 2009, including an oversample of 408 blacks, consisting of 102 interviews done as part of the random national sample and 306 interviews with blacks who had previously participated in national Gallup Polls and agreed to be re-interviewed at a later date. The data from the national sample and re-interviews are combined and weighted to be demographically representative of the national adult population in the United States and to reflect the proper proportion of blacks in the overall population.

For results based on the sample of 408 blacks, the maximum margin of error is ±6 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 933 non-Hispanic whites, the maximum margin of error is ±4 percentage points.

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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