PRINCETON, NJ -- Unemployment now stands alone as the top issue in Gallup's latest update on the most important problem facing the country. Thirty-one percent of Americans mention jobs or unemployment, significantly more than say the economy in general (24%), healthcare (20%), or dissatisfaction with government (10%).
This month, unemployment overtook general mentions of the economy, as the percentage naming unemployment held steady at 31% while the mentions of the economy dipped from 31% to 24%. Unemployment, the economy, and healthcare have been the top three cited problems each month since last May.
The economy had ranked No. 1 in Gallup's monthly most important problem measure since February 2008, when it overtook the Iraq war. The war in Iraq had been the top issue (or tied for the top) each month since April 2004. Thus, unemployment's position at the top of the list marks the first time in six years that something other than Iraq or the economy in general has led Americans' list of national concerns.
More broadly, the economy's struggles are apparent, as 66% of Americans mention some economic issue as the nation's most important problem. At least half of Americans have done so each month since March 2008.
The full results of the "most important problem" question can be found here.
In addition to asking about current problems facing the country, the March 4-7 poll also asked Americans to say what they think will be the most important problem facing the United States in 25 years.
The federal budget deficit is mentioned most often in this regard, by 14% of Americans, slightly more than say the economy in general (11%) and the environment (11%).
This is the first time the federal budget deficit has topped the list of future problems, and indeed the first time it has exceeded 5% mentions. That likely reflects public concern over increased federal spending and expanding budget deficits.
Typically, the environment and the economy figure prominently when Americans predict what the nation's top problem will be 25 years from now. One of those two issues has been the most commonly mentioned in 7 of the 10 years Gallup has asked this question. Social Security topped the list in 2005 and 2006.
The job market has overtaken the economy as the nation's most pressing problem in Americans' minds. Americans last ranked unemployment as the most important problem during the Reagan administration. Since many economists expect unemployment to remain high for much of this year, it would seem unlikely that the public's concern about the issue will diminish anytime soon.
President Obama has said a jobs bill is his top legislative priority -- and though the push for resolution on healthcare reform has slowed progress, the Senate this week passed such legislation, with a House bill in the works. The irony, however, is that in an attempt to address Americans' current most important problem, the legislation will add to the federal budget deficit -- Americans' prediction of the top problem for the United States in 25 years.
Results are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,014 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 4-7, 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 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.