Unemployment Re-Emerges as Most Important Problem in U.S.

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Overtakes the economy in September

PRINCETON, NJ -- Thirty-nine percent of Americans in September name unemployment or jobs as the most important problem facing the country, up from 29% in August. Unemployment has now passed "the economy" as the most frequently mentioned issue. In the month since the passage of debt ceiling legislation, concerns about the federal budget deficit have eased, while the percentage citing dissatisfaction with government as the top problem has held steady at 14%.

What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? Recent 2011 trend

The results are based on a Sept. 8-11 Gallup poll, conducted just after President Obama announced his proposed jobs bill to Congress to address the United States' high unemployment rate. Obama's proposal came shortly after the government reported that no net new jobs were created in the U.S. in August. The increased government attention to unemployment is likely the reason behind the bump in the percentage of Americans citing it as the most important problem.

More generally, economic concerns continue to dominate Americans' perceptions of the country's top problems. Seventy-six percent mention some economic issue as the most important problem, including three of the top four specific issues -- unemployment, the economy in general, and the budget deficit. Dissatisfaction with government ranks as the top non-economic issue, followed by healthcare. No other problem is mentioned by more than 4% of Americans this month.

What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? September 2011 results

Republicans Seen as Better Able to Handle Most Important Problem

The September poll also asked Americans to say which party they thought would do a better job of handling whichever problem they named as most important. More Americans chose the Republican Party (44%) than the Democratic Party (37%) as better able to handle that problem.

1960-2011 trend: Which political party do you think can do a better job of handling the problem you think is most important -- the Republican Party or the Democratic Party?

The current seven-point spread is one of the bigger Republican advantages on this question, which Gallup has asked periodically since 1956. It is the largest GOP advantage since January 1995, when Republicans had a 10-point edge. At that time, crime was the top overall problem according to Americans. The all-time-high Republican advantage was 19 points in January 1981, just after Ronald Reagan took office, when the economy was the most important problem.

Among those in the current poll who cite unemployment as the biggest problem facing the U.S., 42% say the Republican Party is better able to deal with it and 40% say the Democratic Party. Among those saying the economy in general is the top problem, the Republicans have a wider advantage, 57% to 31%.

Those differences to some degree reflect the fact that Americans who identify as Democrats are much more likely to name unemployment than the economy as the nation's top problem, while those who identify as Republicans are only slightly more likely to mention unemployment than the economy. Thus, the data speak to what each party's supporters are most concerned about, as well as Americans' perceptions of the party's relative abilities on the issue.

Views of Most Important Problem, by Political Party Affiliation, September 2011


The nation is still struggling to recover from the 2008-2009 recession. Unemployment remains high, and Americans once again cite it as the top overall problem facing the United States. President Obama has laid out a plan to address the issue and submitted a bill to Congress, though at this point it is not clear if the measure will pass. Regardless of whether it passes, the jobs outlook over the next 13 months will be an important factor in determining whether voters elect to keep Obama in his current job beyond January 2013.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 8-11, 2011, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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 www.gallup.com.

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