Democrats Have Record Advantage for Handling "Most Important Problem"

by Lydia Saad

Iraq war still ranks No. 1; fuel concerns decline

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' view of which political party can better handle the top problem facing the United States is now more positive for the Democrats than at any time in Gallup's 50 year trend on this indicator of party strength. According to Gallup's annual Governance survey, conducted Sep. 7-10, 2006, 49% of Americans name the Democrats as the preferred party to handle the nation's top problem, compared with 34% naming the Republicans. Last year's results to this question reflected more parity between the parties.

The Democrats have not led the Republicans on this measure by more than 10 points since January 1993, just before Bill Clinton took office as president. The Democrats have never previously been chosen by more than 46% of Americans as the preferred party to handle the nation's top problem.

There have been a few other occasions historically -- 1964, 1975-76 and 1993 -- when the Democrats held an advantage over the Republicans on this measure at least as high as the 15-point gap seen today. However, at those times a much higher proportion of Americans than today said "neither" or "both" parties could handle the top issue, thus keeping the percentage naming the Democrats well below 50%.

Iraq Still Seen as No. 1 Problem

The party preference question is a follow-up to another key trend asking Americans to name, without prompting, the most important problem facing the country today. Gallup updates this every month, and except for a 10-point decline in the percentage mentioning fuel prices to the lowest level in six months, the latest results are similar to those from August.

Iraq remains the problem mentioned most frequently, with 24% of Americans offering it as an answer. It is followed by terrorism and the economy, each with 11%. Immigration and dissatisfaction with government or political leaders are mentioned by 9% apiece, while other issues named by at least 5% of Americans include fuel/oil prices, unemployment/jobs and national security.

Most Important Problem Facing the Country - Top Responses

Sep. 7-10, 2006

Aug. 7-10, 2006

%

%

Situation in Iraq/war

24

26

Terrorism

11

10

Economy in general

11

8

Immigration/illegal aliens

9

8

Dissatisfaction with government/leadership; corruption

9

9

Fuel/Oil Prices

5

15

Unemployment/jobs

5

4

National security

5

2

Numerous other issues are mentioned by smaller numbers of Americans, including these:

-- 4% mention problems with education
-- 4% name problems with health care, including high costs
-- 3% cite crime or violence
-- 2% say the environment or pollution
-- 2% mention natural disaster relief efforts

The complete results are displayed at the bottom of his article.

Democratic Party Perceived As Better on the Economy, Iraq

There are significant differences in views on the most important problem by partisanship. Democrats are much more likely to mention Iraq and the economy than are Republicans. On the other hand, Republicans are a great deal more likely to mention terrorism and immigration than are Democrats.

Given the fact that those who identify with a party are highly likely to prefer that party for handling issues, it is no surprise to find that there are substantial differences by partisanship in the choice of party better able to handle a problem.

As noted, 49% of respondents prefer the Democrats to handle the problem they name as most important, while 34% prefer the Republicans. However, Republicans are predictably preferred by an enormous margin (50 points) among those mentioning terrorism. Similarly, the Democratic Party does particularly well among respondents who cite the economy and Iraq as the nation's top problems - holding a 30-point or better advantage on these. Additionally, the Democrats are preferred by 19-point margin (50% to 31%) by the balance of respondents mentioning any other issue.

As the accompanying table shows, the Democrats have significantly expanded their advantage as the preferred party to handle the economy since September 2005, and have also improved their relative positioning on terrorism. Democrats have lost a little ground in terms of being preferred to handle Iraq, but have increased their net advantage on all remaining issues.

Party Perceived as Better to Handle Issue Named as Most Important

Economy

Iraq

Terrorism

All other issues

Sep. 2005

Republican Party

30

24

71

40

Democratic Party

39

66

12

40

Democratic advantage

+9

+42

-59

0

Sep. 2006

Republican Party

28

24

72

31

Democratic Party

58

60

22

50

Democratic advantage

+30

+36

-50

+19

Net Change for Democratic Party

+21

-6

+9

+19



All of these changes result in more respondents choosing the Democratic Party as better able to handle the nation's perceived most important problem.

One might assume that the increase in respondents preferring the Democrats on this measure is due to major shifts since September 2005 in the nature of problems mentioned as most important. But, that is not the case. There have been only modest changes in perceptions of the nation's top problem over this period, and these seem to balance each other out.

Most notably, there has been an increase in the percentage of Americans naming the situation in Iraq (from 16% to 24%) -- a group mostly favorable to the Democrats. But at the same time there have been comparable increases in the percentage mentioning terrorism (from 6% to 11%) and immigration (from 2% to 9%) -- both issues generally positive for the Republicans.

Most Important Problem - Today vs. Year Ago

Sep-05

Sep-06

%

%

Situation in Iraq/Iraq war

16

24

Economy in general

11

11

Terrorism

6

11

Dissatisfaction with government/ Congress/ politicians/ candidates; Poor leadership; corruption

9

9

Immigration/illegal aliens

2

9

Fuel/Oil Prices

8

5

Unemployment/jobs

4

5

National security

4

5

Ethics/moral/religious/family decline; dishonesty; lack of integrity

7

4

Poverty/ hunger/ homelessness

4

4

Education/poor education/access to education

3

4

Poor health care/ hospitals; high cost of health care

3

4

Foreign aid/focus overseas

3

3

Natural disaster relief effort and funding

13

2

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,002 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 7-10, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. 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.

6. What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? [Open-ended]



Recent Trend:

Sep
7-10,
2006

Aug
7-10,
2006

Jul
6-9,
2006

Jun
1-4,
2006

May
8-11,
2006

Apr
10-13,
2006

Mar
13-16,
2006

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

ECONOMIC PROBLEMS (NET)

26

35

27

31

40

32

31

1

Economy in general

11

8

8

9

11

10

10

2

Fuel/Oil Prices

5

15

9

11

22

11

5

3

Unemployment/jobs

5

4

4

4

2

6

8

4

Federal budget deficit/federal debt

2

3

2

4

3

3

4

5

High cost of living/inflation

2

3

1

2

1

1

1

6

Taxes

1

3

1

2

2

1

2

7

Wage issues

1

2

1

*

1

1

1

8

Gap between rich and poor

1

1

1

1

1

*

1

9

Lack of money

1

1

1

1

1

2

2

10

Corporate corruption

*

*

*

1

1

*

1

11

Foreign trade/trade deficit

*

1

--

*

*

1

1

NON-ECONOMIC PROBLEMS (NET)

80

81

78

80

78

79

78

1

Situation in Iraq/war

24

26

25

27

29

25

20

2

Terrorism

11

10

7

3

5

6

9

3

Immigration/illegal aliens

9

8

10

18

13

19

6

4

Dissatisfaction with government/ Congress/ politicians/ candidates; Poor leadership; corruption

9

9

9

8

9

8

8

5

National security

5

2

2

3

3

3

5

6

Education/poor education/access to education

4

4

3

3

4

6

6

7

Poverty/ hunger/ homelessness

4

3

4

4

3

3

4

8

Poor health care/ hospitals; high cost of health care

4

6

9

7

6

6

8

9

Ethics/moral/religious/family decline; dishonesty; lack of integrity

4

5

3

7

6

4

6

10

Foreign aid/focus overseas

3

4

2

3

4

2

2

11

Crime/violence

2

2

2

1

2

2

2

12

Unifying the country

2

1

1

1

1

1

1

13

Environment/ pollution

2

2

2

2

1

1

2

14

Lack of energy sources; the energy crisis

2

4

2

3

4

3

2

15

Natural disaster relief effort and funding

2

*

*

1

*

1

2

16

Judicial system/courts/laws

2

*

1

1

1

1

2

17

Lack of respect for each other

1

1

1

2

2

1

1

18

Social Security

1

1

1

2

1

1

2

19

War in the Middle East

1

3

--

--

--

--

--

20

International issues/ problems

1

2

2

2

3

3

2

21

Medicare

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

22

Race relations/ racism

1

*

*

*

*

*

1

23

Welfare

1

1

*

1

*

*

1

24

Abuse of power

*

*

*

1

*

--

*

25

Children's behavior/way they are raised

*

1

1

1

*

*

1

26

Drugs

*

1

*

1

1

1

1

27

Care for the elderly

*

*

1

*

1

*

*

28

Abortion

*

1

1

*

1

*

*

29

Lack of military defense

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

30

Homosexuality/gay rights issues

*

*

1

*

*

*

*

31

The media

*

1

*

1

*

1

1

Situation in North Korea

--

*

2

--

--

--

--

Other non-economic

2

3

3

3

3

2

2

No opinion

4

2

3

4

2

4

3

Total

131%

145%

127%

146%

151%

141%

137%


7. 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?

BASED ON -981-WHO NAME A MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM



Republican



Democratic

Other party/
no difference/
no opinion

%

%

%

2006 Sep 7-10

34

49

16

2005 Sep 12-15

39

40

21

2005 Jan 3-5

41

41

18

2004 Sep 13-15

46

43

11

2004 Jan 12-15

39

46

15

2002 Jul 26-28

38

36

26

2001 Jan 10-14

39

39

22

1999 Jan 15-17

33

43

24

1998 Apr 17-19

40

42

18

1997 Jan 10-13

33

43

24

1996 Jul 25-28

37

41

22

1996 May 9-12

40

44

16

1995 Jan 16-18

42

32

26

1994 Oct 22-25

41

37

22

1994 Aug 15-16

38

37

25

1994 Aug 8-9

39

37

24

1994 Jul 15-17

39

32

29

1994 Jan

31

39

30

1993 Sep 10-12

31

37

32

1993 Jan 8-11

29

45

26

1992 Mar 26-29

34

40

26

1991 Jul 11-14

36

28

36

1991 Mar 7-10

40

27

33

1990 Oct

30

29

41

1988 Sep

38

33

29

1988 May 9-11

27

40

33

1987 Apr 10-13

29

37

34

1986 Jan 10-13

33

28

39

1985 Jan 25-28

39

29

32

1984 Aug 10-13

39

37

24

1984 Feb 10-13

30

32

38

1983 Nov 18-21

28

35

37

1982 Aug 13-16

26

35

39

1981 Jan 8-11

39

20

41

1980 Mar 28-31

28

32

40

1979 Oct 12-15

25

33

42

1976 Apr 23-26

18

39

43

1975 Oct 17-20

15

42

43

1972 Aug

28

34

38

1968 May

30

28

42

1964 Apr 24-29

16

40

44

1960 Feb 4-9

24

32

44

1956 Sep 20-25

55

45

--

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