Elections Come and Go, Problems Remain

by Heather Mason Kiefer, Contributing Editor

As George W. Bush and John Kerry jockeyed for position during the 2004 presidential campaign, both candidates tossed out countless references to three issues that worry Americans: the economy, the war in Iraq, and the war on terror. Month after month, responses to Gallup's "most important problem" question (in which respondents are asked in an open-ended format to say what is the most important problem facing the country today) have shown that these three issues are of great concern to Americans, and the recent Nov. 7-10 poll* is no exception.

Now that the election is over, have Americans' perceptions of the country's worst problems changed? Not drastically, although there have been some subtle shifts.

In Gallup's October poll, the economy and the war in Iraq were the most frequently mentioned problems: 40% of Americans mentioned some aspect of the economy, including the economy in general, unemployment, and the deficit, and 23% of Americans mentioned Iraq. Sixteen percent mentioned terrorism.

In the November poll, the percentage of Americans mentioning economic aspects was essentially unchanged at 38%. Concern about the war in Iraq inched slightly upward -- perhaps because the November poll was conducted just as the Fallujah offensive began -- to 26%. The percentage mentioning terrorism declined slightly to 13%. In November, just as many Americans mention healthcare as a problem as mention terrorism.

Specific Economic Problems

Seventeen percent of Americans mention the economy in general as the top problem, down from the 21% mentioning it in October. Fourteen percent of Americans specifically mention unemployment as the most important problem. Even good news about 337,000 jobs added in October didn't budge Americans; they were just as likely to mention unemployment this month as they were last month, when 12% mentioned it. Four percent of Americans name the federal budget deficit as the most important problem, and 2% name taxes.

Non-Economic Problems

In addition to the war in Iraq, many Americans still worry about terrorism. Thirteen percent of Americans cite terrorism as the most important problem facing the country. But this percentage has dropped steadily over the past two months, falling from 19% in September to 16% in October, and 16% in October to 13% in November.

Twelve percent of Americans name some aspect of healthcare as the most important problem facing the country. Concern about healthcare has held fairly steady over the past four months, but has actually doubled since May and June 2004, when only 6% of Americans named healthcare as the most important problem.

The issue of moral values -- which made headlines after exit polls found that it was the most frequently selected issue when voters were asked which of seven issues was most important to their votes -- does appear on the latest "most important problem" list, but is mentioned by a relatively small percentage of Americans. Seven percent of Americans feel that ethics/morality is the most important problem facing the country today, similar to the percentages that mention Social Security/Medicare (5%), national security (4%), and dissatisfaction with government (4%).

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,016 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 7-10, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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