PRINCETON, NJ -- Fifty-seven percent of Americans mention an economic issue when asked to name the most important problem facing the United States today, the lowest since June 2010, when the percentage was also 57%. The last time it fell below this level was with a 55% reading in December 2009.
Gallup has asked Americans to name, in an open-ended question format, the most important problem facing the country since 1939, and has done so monthly since March 2001. As part of the monthly update on the "most important problem" question, Gallup compiles the percentage of Americans who mention some economic issue, such as the economy in general, unemployment, or the federal budget deficit, in their response. The highest percentage mentioning economic issues during this time was 86% in February 2009, shortly after President Obama took office and was working to pass economic stimulus legislation. The lowest was 16% in December 2006, a time when the Iraq war ranked as the most important problem facing the country.
Even though the percentage of Americans now mentioning any economic issue is down from where it has been in recent years, the "economy in general" still ranks as the top specific issue, mentioned by 24% of Americans. That is followed closely by 20% who say dissatisfaction with government is the most important problem, the highest percentage mentioning that issue since late May/early June 1974, a few months before Richard Nixon resigned as president due to the Watergate scandal.
Two other issues are mentioned by at least 10% of Americans: unemployment and the federal budget deficit. The economy, dissatisfaction with government, unemployment, and the deficit have consistently ranked among the top issues this year.
Deficit, Economy Predicted to Be Top Problems in 25 Years
Gallup periodically asks Americans to look ahead and say what they think the most important problem facing the nation will be in 25 years. The federal budget deficit (13%) and the economy in general (12%) are the top issues mentioned, followed by the environment (8%), dissatisfaction with government (6%), and unemployment (6%).
When Gallup last asked this question in March 2010, the budget deficit, the economy, and the environment were the top issues. Typically, the environment figures more prominently as a future concern than a present one. In fact, Americans named the environment as the most important future problem in 2000, 2001, 2007, and 2008. Social Security and the economy in general, along with the federal budget deficit, are the other issues that Americans have historically named as the most important problem 25 years from now.
Though economic issues such as the economy in general, unemployment, and the deficit still rank among Americans' top concerns for the country today, economic issues are less commonly mentioned now than at any point in the last three years. The most notable trend is the growing percentage of Americans saying dissatisfaction with government is the most important problem facing the country today, now at levels not seen in nearly 40 years.
Looking ahead, today's top problems, along with the environment, rank among the issues Americans say will be the most important problem facing the United States 25 years from now. That would suggest that at least some segment of the American population expects little progress to be made in addressing today's biggest issues over the course of the next two decades or more.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 7-10, 2013 with a random sample of 1,022 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 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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphones 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.