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Sharp Differences in Partisan Views of Economic Problems

Republicans much more worried about regulation, taxes, and the deficit than are Democrats

PRINCETON, NJ -- Republicans and Democrats view economic issues facing the country today from substantially different perspectives. Republicans are most likely to be worried about the increasing federal deficit, increasing federal income taxes, and problems state governments have in funding their budgets, while Democrats are most worried about the rising unemployment rate, Americans without healthcare insurance, and the increasing cost of healthcare.


These results underscore the political tensions that have arisen as the Obama administration and Congress wrestle with how to fix the country's economic problems, while at the same time dealing with the longer-term impact of those efforts. Taken as a whole, Republicans are more concerned than Democrats about the impact of increased federal and state spending, and government regulation of business, while Democrats are more concerned about the societal problems that the increased spending and regulation are designed to address.

The findings are based on a June 23-24 Gallup Poll, which asked Americans whether they personally are worried about each of 12 economic issues. The list contains a number of the nation's currently pressing economic problems -- including decreasing pay and wages and rising gas prices, in addition to unemployment and healthcare. It also includes efforts related to curing the problems -- for example, increasing state and federal incomes taxes and the federal government's expanding ownership and regulation of private business and industry, along with the federal deficit.

The poll shows that there is no shortage of worry about economic issues for the average American today. At least half of those interviewed said they were worried about each of the 12 issues tested.

But the results among all Americans mask fundamental differences by partisanship in the worry expressed about many of these issues.

  • Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to express worry about the five items included in the poll that represent consequences of attempting to fix economic problems: the federal government's expanding ownership and regulation of private business and industry, increasing federal and state taxes, and the increasing federal budget deficit.
  • Democrats, on the other hand, are much more likely to be worried about the increasing numbers of Americans without health insurance, and, to a lesser degree, about the rising unemployment rate, the increasing cost of healthcare, and decreasing pay and wages for the average worker.


The partisan differences in worry about federal government's increasing ownership of corporations and increasing regulation of business and industry are the largest of any of the 12 issues: 82% of Republicans say they worry about the federal government's expanding ownership of private corporations, compared to only 42% of Democrats. And 78% of Republicans worry about the federal government's increasing regulation of business and industry, compared to just 40% of Democrats. In fact, only these two items generate less than a 50% "worry" percentage among either partisan group.

While there are sharp differences in expressed worry about many of the issues tested, there is general agreement between Republicans and Democrats on 3 of the 12 issues: problems with personal debt/credit cards, the increasing price of gas, and problems state governments have in funding their budgets.

All Americans

There are more Democrats than Republicans in today's political environment (in the sample used for these data, 48% were Democrats or leaned Democratic, while 38% were Republicans or leaned Republican), meaning that altogether, at least half of all Americans are worried about each problem.


And, taken as a whole, Americans appear to be almost as worried about the increasing federal budget deficit as they are about rising unemployment and rising healthcare costs. Overall, the poll finds 87% saying they worry personally about unemployment and 85% about healthcare costs, while 81% worry about the increasing federal budget deficit. Across the entire sample, the lowest levels of worry are about the federal government's increasing ownership of, and regulation of, business.


These results highlight three important points about the ways Americans view government efforts to fix the nation's economic problems. First, it is clear that the deficit is a looming issue for Americans; it generates almost as much worry as do underlying problems such as unemployment and the cost of healthcare. Second, the data suggest that concern about federal ownership and regulation of business is on a relative basis less of a concern to Americans than other economic issues facing the country. And third, the data demonstrate the degree to which views on a number of economic issues are sharply different between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans in particular are much more concerned about government's increasing regulation and ownership of business, rising taxes, and the deficit than are Democrats.

All in all, the results show that the rationale for the Obama administration's efforts to deal with today's major economic problems is well-founded; large percentages of Americans of every political persuasion say they worry about such things as the rising unemployment rate and the increasing cost of healthcare. At the same time, the results also show there is public-opinion support for several potential arguments against the Obama administration's efforts, including first and foremost Americans' concerns that such efforts will unacceptably increase the federal budget deficit. Beyond the deficit, the results indicate that concern about increasing taxes, particularly at the federal level, may be a more potent argument among Americans than concern about too much control over private corporations.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 989 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 23-24, 2009. 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.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

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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