Republicans and Democrats Agree: Top Government Priority Is Iraq

by Joseph Carroll

Sixty-four percent of all Americans say Iraq is government's top priority

PRINCETON, NJ -- Regardless of whether the Democrats take control of Congress or the Republicans keep control on Nov. 7, one thing is clear: Americans want their elected representatives to make the war in Iraq their top priority. In fact, Americans' perceptions that Iraq should be the top priority for the president and Congress have increased substantially this month, with nearly two in three mentioning it as the No. 1 issue. Iraq is the top issue for both Republicans and Democrats, though these political groups differ in other ways on their perceptions of what government should be doing. Terrorism or national security slid back from a high of 20% in September to 12% in the most recent poll. Mentions of fuel prices are also down, and are at their lowest point this year.

Overall Results

The Oct. 23-26 poll asked respondents to name, without prompting, what should be the "one or two … top priorities for the president and Congress to deal with." Nearly two in three Americans (64%) mention the current situation in Iraq. Fewer than one in five identify any other single issue as the government's top priority right now. Trailing Iraq are the general state of the economy (18%), immigration (15%), and healthcare issues (11%).

Other issues mentioned by at least 5% of Americans include national security, terrorism, fuel or oil prices, and education. Here are the full results to the question.

What issue do you think should be the top priority for the president and Congress to deal with?

 

2006 Oct 23-26

%

Situation in Iraq/War

64

Economy in general

18

Immigration/Illegal aliens

15

Poor healthcare/hospitals; high cost of healthcare

11

National security

6

Terrorism

6

Fuel/Oil prices/Lack of energy sources/The energy crisis

6

Education/Poor education/Access to education

5

Federal budget deficit/Federal debt

4

The situation in North Korea

3

Social Security

3

Taxes

2

Unemployment/Jobs

2

Environment/Pollution

2

Foreign aid/Focus overseas

2

Poor leadership/Corruption/Dissatisfaction with government/ Congress/politicians/candidates

2

Homosexual issues/Gay marriage

2

Medicare

1

War/Conflict in the Middle East

1

Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness

1

Ethics/Moral/Religious/Family decline; dishonesty; lack of integrity

1

International issues/problems

1

High cost of living/Inflation

1

Care for the elderly

1

Cancer/Diseases

1

Judicial system/Courts/Laws

1

Lack of respect for each other

1

Unifying the country

*

Wages

*

Abortion

*

Lack of military defense

*

Natural disaster relief/funding

*

Lack of money

*

Gap between rich and poor

*

Crime/Violence

*

Election year/Election reform

*

Welfare

*

Race relations/Racism

--

Trade deficit/Foreign trade

--

 

Other

3

 

No opinion

2

* Less than 0.5%

Note: Percentages add to more than 100% due to multiple responses.

Gallup first asked this question in April, and in each poll since that point, the war in Iraq has ranked as the most salient issue from the public's perspective. In April, 29% of Americans said Iraq should be the top priority for the government. By June, this percentage climbed as high as 60%, before dropping back from July to September, when roughly half of Americans said Iraq should be the government's top priority. Now, mentions of Iraq as the top priority have surged to 64%.

The importance of Iraq in the minds of Americans is underscored in other recent Gallup data.

Throughout the year, Americans have identified the situation in Iraq as the "most important problem facing this country today." The latest monthly update on this long-standing measure, from an Oct. 9-12 survey, finds that 28% of Americans say Iraq is the nation's most important problem. This percentage has averaged 25% since the beginning of the year, with a low of 20% and a high of 29%.

Also, Iraq figured prominently when Republican and Democratic supporters were asked what would worry them most about the other party winning control of Congress. Those who think the country would be better off if Republicans controlled Congress are worried that the Democratic Party would "cut and run" from Iraq if the Democrats win control of Congress. Those favoring Democratic control of Congress are worried that the situation in Iraq would get worse if the Republicans keep control of Congress.

Americans' perceptions that terrorism and national security should be the top priority for the president and Congress have decreased this month from last month's high point. From April through August, 9% of Americans, on average, mentioned terrorism or national security as the top government priority. This increased to 20% in September, but has now dropped back to 12%.

The percentage of Americans saying the top government priority should be fuel or oil prices continues to decline and is now at its lowest point this year. In May, 29% of Americans said fuel or oil prices should be the top priority for government. Since then, this sentiment has decreased, reaching its current low of 6%.

There has been a slight increase this month in Americans' sentiments that the general state of the economy should be the government's top priority, up from 13% in September to 18% now. But the current level is similar to those Gallup has measured in recent months.

Healthcare issues and immigration typically rate among the top priorities for government, and the percentage of Americans mentioning these two issues has been stable in recent months.

Partisan Views of the Nation's Priorities

Republicans (including independents who lean toward the Republican Party) and Democrats (including Democratic-leaning independents) differ significantly in their views of where the president and Congress should be focusing their attention.

Despite these differences, the war in Iraq is the top priority for both groups, though Democrats (at 72%) are much more likely than Republicans (at 55%) to mention Iraq. Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to mention healthcare issues (14% vs. 8%). Republicans more frequently mention terrorism or national security (18% vs. 8%) and immigration (24% vs. 8%). And the two party groups are about equally likely to mention the economy, fuel prices, North Korea, education, the budget deficit, and Social Security as top government priorities. 

Top Priorities by Party Affiliation
Oct. 23-26, 2006

 

Republicans (including "leaners")

Democrats (including "leaners")

%

%

Situation in Iraq/War

55

72

Immigration/Illegal aliens

24

8

Economy in general

17

21

Terrorism

10

4

Poor healthcare/hospitals; high cost of healthcare

8

14

National security

8

4

Fuel/Oil prices/Lack of energy sources/The energy crisis

6

6

The situation in North Korea

4

2

Education/Poor education/Access to education

3

8

Federal budget deficit/Federal debt

3

4

Social Security

2

2

Survey Methods

Results for this panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 23-26, 2006. Respondents were randomly drawn from Gallup's nationally representative household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error 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.

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