In U.S., Economy, Oil Spill Rank as Most Important Problems

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Spike for "disaster response" mentions is second only to that for "terrorism" after 9/11

PRINCETON, NJ -- The ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has catapulted "natural disaster response and relief" into the top five of Gallup's monthly "most important problem" list. At 18%, disaster response now trails only the economy and unemployment as the United States' most important problem. Dissatisfaction with government and healthcare are also cited by at least 10% of Americans in the June 11-13 Gallup poll.

Top 10 Mentions: What Do You Think Is the Most Important Problem Facing This Country Today?

Though the explosion of the BP rig that caused the oil spill occurred in late April, the issue did not appear as a major concern among a large percentage of Americans until this month. In the May 3-6 update on the most important problem, only 1% of Americans mentioned natural disaster response, compared with the current 18%.

The 17 percentage-point increase from May to June ranks among the largest one-month changes in the percentage mentioning any issue as the most important problem since Gallup began asking this question on a monthly basis in 2001. In fact, the only larger one-month increase was the 46-point spike in the percentage mentioning terrorism after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. There was a 13-point increase in the percentage mentioning natural disasters (from 0% to 13%) after Hurricane Katrina in September 2005.

The increased concern about the oil spill is the most notable change from last month; however, there were also slight declines in the percentages mentioning healthcare and immigration. The percentages mentioning economic issues -- the top issues in May -- were generally steady.

Change in Percentage Mentioning Issues as Most Important Problem, May to June 2010

Democrats generally rate the economy as a greater problem than do Republicans, particularly in terms of unemployment. Republicans, on the other hand, are more likely to be concerned with the federal budget deficit and to express frustration with government and the people who run it. Party groups are equally likely to mention disaster response and healthcare as the most important problem.

Most Important Problem, June 2010, by Party Affiliation


The oil spill has been the dominant issue over the last two months, with Americans keeping close tabs on it and, as a result, they now recognize it as one of the most important problems facing the country. Nevertheless, economic concerns persist and are more commonly mentioned than the oil spill.

It is possible that the oil spill may rank as a greater priority now, in the days since the poll was conducted, given President Obama's nationally televised address on the issue Tuesday night -- particularly the government's focus on the efforts needed to ensure that the damage the oil spill has caused is repaired.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 11-13, 2010, with a random sample of 1,014 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

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 landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.

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