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Country's Problems Seen Through Partisan Lens

by David W. Moore

Kerry supporters stress economy, Bush supporters, terrorism


PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent Gallup survey finds three problems dominating Americans' concerns -- the economy, the war in Iraq, and terrorism. Concerns about moral decline are also important to a limited number of Americans. The poll also finds that the relative importance of these issues varies considerably by whether one supports Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry or President George W. Bush in the presidential contest. Kerry supporters are much more concerned about the economy and the war in Iraq, while Bush supporters are much more concerned about terrorism and moral decline in America.

The poll, conducted June 3-6, finds 41% of Americans overall citing some aspect of the economy as the most important problem facing the country. But that percentage is much higher among Kerry supporters (51%) than among Bush supporters (31%).

The difference between the two groups is not as pronounced on the non-economic problems as the economic problems -- 67% of Kerry supporters find some non-economic aspect as the most important problem, compared with a somewhat higher 78% among Bush supporters.

When mentioning specific items, Kerry supporters are much more likely than Bush supporters to mention the general economy (25% to 14%) and jobs or unemployment (17% to 9%). There is little difference between the groups on the other economic issues.

On specific non-economic issues, there are also some major differences. Kerry supporters are much more likely than Bush supporters to mention the situation in Iraq (32% to 19%). But Bush supporters are much more likely to mention terrorism (21% among Bush supporters, 6% among Kerry supporters) and concerns about a moral decline in the country (10% to 1%). Healthcare and education elicit about the same number of responses from each.

Satisfaction and Economy Ratings Also Differ by Groups

Further evidence that partisanship is highly related to people's views about the wellbeing of the country is found in two other questions -- overall satisfaction with the way things are going in the country, and ratings of the economy.

Overall, Americans are dissatisfied with the country's direction by 59% to 39%. But Bush supporters express satisfaction by better than a 2-to-1 margin (69% to 29%), while Kerry supporters are overwhelmingly dissatisfied (86% dissatisfied, 13% satisfied).

A similar pattern appears in the public's rating of the economy. Among Bush supporters, 54% say the economy is either "excellent" or "good," while 46% say "only fair" or "poor." Among Kerry supporters, however, only 18% give high marks, while 81% give low marks.

When looking to the future, Bush supporters are decidedly optimistic, with 72% saying the economy is "getting better," and just 21% saying it is "getting worse." Kerry supporters, however, are decidedly pessimistic, believing things are getting worse rather than better by 65% to 27%.

Overall, these results show that Bush supporters and Kerry supporters have decidedly different views of the current state of affairs in the United States. Bush supporters tend to be more concerned about terrorism rather than the war in Iraq and the current state of the economy, and they are concerned about the moral state of the country. They are also quite optimistic about where the country's economy is headed. Kerry supporters, on the other hand, find little reason for optimism. They are more worried about the current state of the economy and the war in Iraq than they are about terrorism, and they believe the economy is getting worse.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 3-6, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the 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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