Most Important Problem

Government Dissatisfaction as the Nation's Most Important Problem

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

by Joseph Carroll

Every month, Gallup asks Americans, without prompting, to name "the most important problem facing this country today." The latest poll, conducted Dec. 5-8, finds that dissatisfaction with government is the second most frequently mentioned problem, at 12%. The war in Iraq is the nation's top problem, with 22% of Americans mentioning it. Cited next-most frequently are the general state of the economy (8%), ethics and moral decline (7%), terrorism (6%), unemployment or jobs (6%), immigration (5%), poverty, hunger, or homelessness (5%), and healthcare (5%).

Government Dissatisfaction

The percentage of Americans who spontaneously mention dissatisfaction with government as the nation’s top problem is higher now than it has been in recent years. Since the beginning of 2003, the percentage of Americans mentioning government dissatisfaction has averaged just 6%. From January through August 2005, Gallup found government dissatisfaction ranging between 5% and 8%. Then, in September, 9% mentioned this as the nation’s top problem. The percentage remained at this level in October and November, and now, it has edged up slightly, to 12%.

Still, the percentage currently mentioning dissatisfaction with government as the nation’s top problem is not at a historical high. Gallup last found a similar percentage mentioning government dissatisfaction in the later years of Bill Clinton’s presidency: 14% of Americans mentioned it as the most important problem in September 1998 and 11% in March 2000.

During the Watergate scandal, Gallup found that roughly one in four Americans mentioned government dissatisfaction as the most important problem. In fact, the highest percentage was in late May/early June 1974, when 26% of Americans said dissatisfaction with government was the top problem.

It is important to keep in mind that the December 2005 poll was conducted before the most recent saturation news coverage of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Gallup’s January measure of the most important problem will be available early next week.

Politics and Government Dissatisfaction

Self-described liberals are slightly more likely than self-described moderates or conservatives to mention government dissatisfaction as the most important problem. Twenty percent of liberals mention government dissatisfaction, compared with 10% of moderates and 11% of conservatives.

However, the poll finds little difference between Republicans’ and Democrats’ mentions of government dissatisfaction as the top problem facing the country. Ten percent of Republicans mention government dissatisfaction as the most important problem, while 12% of independents and 14% of Democrats do so.

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