PRINCETON, NJ -- As John McCain and Barack Obama figuratively round the bend into the final stretch of the 2008 presidential race, a new Gallup Poll identifies the economy as the runaway top election issue for Americans. The 55% of Americans now naming the economy as "extremely important" to their vote for president outranks the situation in Iraq -- which received the highest score in February -- and energy, which had topped the list in June.
This finding is from an Oct. 23-26 Gallup Poll in which Americans were asked to rate the importance of 12 policy issues to their vote for president.
Six issues cluster in second place behind the economy, all considered extremely important by between 40% and 44% of Americans: the federal budget deficit (44%), terrorism (42%), energy/gas prices (41%), the situation in Iraq (41%), healthcare (41%), and taxes (40%).
Education (39%), moral values (39%), and the situation in Afghanistan (37%) fall right below these six in the October ranking. The environment (26%) and illegal immigration (25%) are positioned to be the least influential issues of the 12 tested.
In fact, not only is the economy perceived to be the most important issue in this election, the 55% who rate it as extremely important to their vote is the highest Gallup has found for any issue in the last four presidential election years (since 1996).
Republicans and Democrats have somewhat predictably different outlooks about which issues are most important to their vote. While the economy is the top-rated issue for both groups (as well as for political independents), it is rated extremely important by a higher proportion of Democrats than Republicans (63% vs. 52%). And whereas the economy is clearly the top-rated issue for Democrats, among Republicans the economy roughly ties with terrorism and moral values in perceived importance.
Healthcare ranks second among Democrats, but doesn't appear in the top five issues of Republicans or independents. The corresponding issues for Republicans are moral values and taxes: these issues rank tied for second and fourth, respectively, for Republicans, but don't register in the top five for independents or Democrats.
Aside from the economy, energy is the only other election issue that ranks among the top five for all three political groups.
Voters Honing In on the Economy, Taxes, Energy, the Budget Deficit, Moral Values
Americans have had ample opportunity to consider the issues in this election. The candidates have engaged in numerous political debates during both the primary season and the general election, and both candidates have made certain issues a focal point for their campaigns.
Perhaps as a result, none of the 12 issues rated are given significantly lower importance scores today than they were at the start of the year. Several, however, have grown in perceived relevance. The economy, taxes, energy, the federal budget deficit, and moral values have all seen increases of 5 points or more in the percentage of Americans rating each as "extremely important" to their vote.
The 14-point increase in those rating the economy extremely important is seen about evenly among Republicans and Democrats. The widespread problems with the nation's economy have caused a bipartisan decline in consumer confidence throughout the year, and that is reflected in an increasing likelihood among both groups to call the issue extremely important to their vote.
The 14-point increase in those calling the federal budget deficit extremely important has also been fairly bipartisan in nature.
The tax issue has intensified recently, with McCain pouncing on Obama's recent and past statements about redistributing wealth as evidence of a sharp philosophical distinction between the two candidates on tax policy. Despite this, Gallup trends show that both political groups have grown more likely to say the tax issue will be extremely important to their vote this year.
In February, it appeared that the situation in Iraq would be on par with the economy in its importance to voters in choosing the next president. By June, the energy issue had emerged as at least as important as the economy, and had displaced Iraq at the top of the rankings. Today, the economy has no peer among the issues Americans say they will consider in the polling booth next Tuesday. It is the undisputed top concern of independents and Democrats and ties for first among Republicans.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 23-26, 2008. 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.