Politics

Americans Troubled by Issues, Upbeat About Leaders This Election Day

Terrorism and Iraq dominate top-of-mind concerns

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Today's weather conditions could affect the level of national voter turnout, possibly impacting close races in states like South Dakota and New Hampshire. But a greater impact will come from the larger attitudinal climate of voters. That climate is difficult to qualify, however, as it is comprised of positive feelings about President George W. Bush and the overall job performed by Congress, mixed feelings about the direction of the country, and pessimism about the nation's economy.

Election Day Political Climate
October 2002

These are the macro-climactic factors political observers often use to forecast whether an election is likely to swing in favor of or away from the sitting president's party.

  • In this case, George W. Bush's strong job approval level is an important advantage for Republican candidates nationwide. It is somewhat lower than his peak approval ratings in the first months after the Sept. 11 attacks, but it continues to be exceptionally strong compared to past presidents at this point in their terms.
  • Public approval of Congress is also very high by historical standards. For most of the history of this trend, disapproval of Congress has outweighed approval by a wide margin. That changed in 1999 and 2000 as the economic boom took hold and Americans gave both President Clinton and Congress higher ratings. The fact that it is relatively high today is good news for incumbents. (Exceptionally weak approval of Congress in October 1994 spelled disaster for the Democrats in that election -- they lost majority control of Congress.)
  • Americans' negative perceptions about the economy -- barely one-quarter (28%) describe current conditions as excellent or good, and only 37% believe conditions are improving -- would normally represent an important disadvantage for the GOP. But this year, with the war on terrorism and the possibility of war with Iraq competing with the economy for public attention, this election is not likely to be just a referendum on the economy.
  • This fact may explain why Americans' general evaluation about the direction of the nation (according to a Gallup question that asks "are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time") is much more positive than public satisfaction with the economy. The current level of public satisfaction, 48%, is just slightly higher than the historical average of 45% (dating back to 1979).

Aside from these macro indicators, there are a myriad of micro issues that generate various levels of public concern, and that may have different effects on different people. Some key issues include trust in government, ratings of the economy, race relations and women's rights, fear of terrorism, perceptions about the labor market, the stock market, and satisfaction with education and with government efforts to combat corporate corruption.

As the following table shows, most Americans are generally positive about conditions in the area of minority rights and relations; they also express broad trust in government and satisfaction with the overall way the country is being governed. The most negative evaluations tend to be reserved for economic concerns, such as the job and stock markets, as well as general perceptions about environmental quality.

Positive
Evaluation

Negative Evaluation

%

%

Satisfaction with the treatment of women

72

26

Trust government to handle international problems

71

28

Positively rate race relations between whites and blacks

69

28

Satisfaction with the treatment of blacks

64

33

Trust government to handle domestic problems

63

35

Overall satisfaction with the way the U.S. is governed

59

39

Rate environmental quality excellent/good

47

52

Satisfied with quality of U.S. education in K-12

47

50

Confident that federal actions will prevent more corporate corruption

46

50

Expect the economy to grow

44

27

Expect the stock market to go up

42

34

Think future terrorism against U.S. is unlikely

41

56

Think environment is getting better

40

54

Expect unemployment to go down

29

45

Think now is a good time to find a quality job

23

70

Data compiled from Gallup Polls conducted between March and October 2002

A final Gallup indicator of the issues weighing on Americans' minds this Election Day is the open-ended question, "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" Americans give a wide variety of answers to this question, including crime, healthcare, poverty, drugs, and education. The economy is mentioned by a substantial number of Americans, and in fact by a larger share than in either of the last two mid-term elections. But this year, unlike any year since the Vietnam War, an enormous number of respondents tell Gallup that the number one problem has to do with the nation's foreign policy front: terrorism, the situation with Iraq, national defense, or fear of war generally.

 

Most Important Problem Facing the Country

 

Economic
issues

Terrorism/War/International issues

2002 Oct 14-17

37%

42

1998 Sep 14-15

27%

11

1994 Aug 15-16

30%

6



"How will it all play out today?" is, of course, the question being asked with a drum roll while waiting for the polls to close. Gallup's final pre-election survey, conducted this past weekend, shows that the net effect of all these factors is a closely divided public in the vote for Congress. Among all national adults, the Democrats are preferred over the Republicans by a slight margin, 48% to 43%. But among the much smaller group of Americans who are expected to turn out to vote today (about 35% of the general population) the Republicans lead, 51% to 45%. Clearly an important factor will be turnout. That could depend on who is most motivated to vote, which in turn could depend on Americans' feelings about the issues at stake.

Survey Methods

The most recent results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,221 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 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.

How would you rate economic conditions in this country today -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?

 

Excellent

Good

Only fair

Poor

No opinion

National Adults

(NA) 2002 Oct 31-Nov 3

2%

26

45

26

1

(NA) 2002 Oct 3-6

2%

24

46

27

1

Likely Voters

(LV) 2002 Oct 31-Nov 3

3%

31

42

24

*

(LV) 2002 Oct 3-6

3%

24

46

27

*



Right now, do you think that economic conditions in the country as a whole are getting better or getting worse?

 

Getting better

Getting worse

SAME (vol.)

No opinion

National Adults

(NA) 2002 Oct 31-Nov 3

37%

51

8

4

(NA) 2002 Oct 3-6

30%

59

8

3

Likely Voters

(LV) 2002 Oct 31-Nov 3

41%

46

9

4

(LV) 2002 Oct 3-6

33%

56

8

3



ECONOMIC OUTLOOK GROUPS (COMBINED RESPONSES)

 

Positive

Mixed

Negative

Undesignated

National Adults

(NA) 2002 Oct 31-Nov 3

20%

27

49

4

(NA) 2002 Oct 3-6

16%

25

55

4

Likely Voters

(LV) 2002 Oct 31-Nov 3

26%

24

46

4

(LV) 2002 Oct 3-6

19%

23

55

3



* -- Less than 0.5%

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/7159/Americans-Troubled-Issues-Upbeat-About-Leaders-Election-Day.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030