PRINCETON, NJ -- As the current Congress reconvenes this week for the first time since the midterm elections, the American people would most likely tell their representatives to focus on jobs, the economy in general, healthcare, the overall way the government works, and the federal budget deficit -- in that order. These are the top five issues Americans name as the most important problems facing the country today.
These results, from a Gallup poll conducted Nov. 4-7, 2010, mark the first time since April that mentions of jobs/unemployment have outpaced mentions of the economy in general when Americans are asked to name the top problem facing the nation. The employment situation and economic conditions have been the two most frequently mentioned problems in Gallup's monthly updates all year, generally followed by healthcare and dissatisfaction with government. Americans' concern about natural disasters flared up in the summer months as the BP oil spill dominated the news, but quickly faded.
The last time Americans named neither unemployment/jobs nor the economy as the nation's top problem was January 2008, when Iraq topped the list.
Concern About Unemployment and Jobs on the Rise
Americans' specific concern about unemployment has generally been on the increase over the last two years, from as low as 3% in October 2008 to the current 33%, concurrent with the rise in the U.S. unemployment rate, now at 9.6%. Mentions of unemployment also were high in 2003 and 2004, although not as high as in recent months.
More broadly, sizable proportions of Americans have named unemployment and jobs as the nation's top problems at four historical points prior to the last decade. Two of these came just before and after World War II -- in 1939 at the tail end of the Depression, and in the immediate post-World War II era from 1946-1948. The other two were in 1976 and 1977 -- the final year of Gerald Ford's administration and the first year of Jimmy Carter's -- and in the early 1980s, the last time the nation's unemployment rate was around 10%. At least half of Americans mentioned unemployment as the nation's top problem in 1946 and in 1983.
Americans' worries about jobs and the economy were clearly major factors in the outcome of the recent midterm elections, and will continue to be major factors in the public's ongoing assessment of the job the new Congress is doing as it takes over in January. There is little doubt that elected representatives in Washington are aware of this stark reality. Still, there is a major distinction between recognizing that there is a problem, and figuring out what to do about it. One of the key challenges on Congress' agenda will be the attempt to reconcile significant differences in approaches to fixing the economy, particularly including disagreement between partisan groups on just how involved the federal government should be in direct attempts to stimulate the economy and create jobs.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 4-7, 2010, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
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 landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.