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Americans' Economic Concerns Reach Two-Year High

Americans' Economic Concerns Reach Two-Year High

by Elizabeth Mendes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Three in four Americans name some type of economic issue as the "most important problem" facing the country today -- the highest net mentions of the economy in two years.

2001-2011 Trend: Perceived Most Important Problem Facing the United States, Net Economic and Net Non-Economic Problems

Gallup has been asking Americans the most important problem question on a monthly basis since 2001. Economic issues began to dominate Americans' concerns in 2008 as the financial crisis unfolded, and rose to an all-time high of 86% in February 2009. Since then, Americans have still generally been more concerned about economic matters than non-economic ones, although the percentage naming economic concerns did fall for much of 2009 before creeping back up in 2010 and 2011.

Economy, Jobs Americans' Top Economic Concerns

General economic concerns (35%) and unemployment (22%) are the specific issues currently at the forefront of Americans' minds. The percentage mentioning the economy in general is up significantly from 26% in April, while unemployment is up just slightly from 19%.

Twelve percent of Americans mention the federal budget deficit or federal debt as the nation's most important problem, down from 17% in April, although still high on a historical basis. The April reading was the highest Gallup found since 1996.

Mentions of gas prices are up to 8% in the May 5-8 Gallup poll, the highest in nearly three years.

May 2011: Top Five Economic and Non-Economic Problems Named as Most Important Problem Facing U.S.

The leading non-economic problem -- dissatisfaction with government -- lags way behind Americans' top economic concerns, at 8%. Mentions of dissatisfaction with government are down from 13% in April, likely the result of the rally in support for President Obama and Congress after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Democrats, Republicans, Independents Agree: Economy, Jobs Are Nation's Top Two Problems

Americans across political parties name the economy in general and unemployment as the most important issues facing the United States at this time -- and there is little difference in the percentages mentioning each.

The federal budget deficit is the No. 3 top problem for Republicans (17%) and independents (11%). Fuel prices are the third-most-mentioned problem among Democrats, at 10%.

Dissatisfaction with government is also among the top five problems members of each party name.

May 2011: Top Five Most Important Problems, by Political Party

Bottom Line

While Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington are desperately seeking common ground on the federal budget deficit and debt issue -- the United States will reach its borrowing limit Monday -- Americans are worried primarily about the economy and jobs. If Congress fails to raise or delays raising the debt limit, it could cause economic problems for the country, but Americans may not fully understand these consequences and may instead be prioritizing the issues that are affecting their current daily lives.

Although U.S. job creation reached a 2 ½-year high in April, Americans are still highly concerned about unemployment, underscoring the extent to which the recession devastated the job market. Further improvement on the jobs front -- which is closely tied to spending and economic confidence -- may be needed before Americans' priorities on the nation's top issues shift away from the economy.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 5-8, 2011, with a random sample of 1,018 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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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

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