PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans name jobs, the national debt, continuing economic decline, outsourcing, and politicians' bickering -- including President Obama and Congress -- when asked to say what worries them most about the national economy at this time.
Although Americans' economic confidence is edging up, it is still low on an absolute basis, and economic concerns remain the dominant response when Americans are asked to name the most important problem facing the country. Gallup included this open-ended question in its Jan. 5-8 survey to find out more about the underlying nature of Americans' economic concerns as this election year begins. Readers are encouraged to read all 1,000 Americans' verbatim responses to this question.
Americans' concerns about the federal deficit and the inability of elected officials in Washington to deal with the economy, including the executive and legislative branch, tracks with the very low ratings that the government and Congress have received over the past year.
It is notable that few Americans mention the effect of international events, such as the eurozone crisis, the influence of China, or the situation with Iran, as their top economic worry.
Few Americans say that inequality or the gap between the rich and poor worries them, and a small 3% mention that the power of corporations and their influence on the economy is what worries them the most about the economy.
Jobs Dominate Republicans' and Democrats' Worries
Republicans and Democrats worry most about jobs. But Republicans, including Republican-leaning independents, are significantly more likely than Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to say that the deficit worries them most. Republicans are also more likely to say that Obama's handling of the economy worries them.
Democrats are more likely to mention the role of Congress as their top worry and slightly more likely to mention worries about low wages and inequality. Both of these latter concerns, however, are low on an absolute basis among Democrats.
High-Income Americans' More Worried About National Debt
High-income Americans worry more than those who make less money about the deficit, with the deficit ranking particularly low on the list of worries among those making less than $30,000 a year. Low-income Americans on the other hand are more concerned about jobs and the lack of economic stability than those making more money.
Residents in the South and West are more worried about jobs than those in the Midwest and East, although jobs remains the top concern in each region. Residents of the Midwest are more concerned about the deficit than those elsewhere.
Americans' open-ended responses make it clear that any politician attempting to closely match Americans' worries about the economy should emphasize specifically the jobs situation, the federal deficit, and then the political situation in Washington.
All presidential candidates have discussed jobs in their campaigning so far and no doubt will continue to do so. The deficit -- more of a worry to Republicans than Democrats -- has been an issue in the general political arena, particularly in terms of the debate last summer over increasing the debt ceiling, and will probably be an issue in the presidential campaign in the months ahead.
All presidential candidates have discussed the negative effect of the political process on the economy, but usually as part of a direct attack on the other party, with Obama attacking Congress and the Republican candidates attacking Obama. Obama's attempt to pit himself against an ineffective Congress apparently will have some resonance with voters, particularly his fellow Democrats. However, just as many Americans say that it is Obama's leadership that is their biggest economic worry, a concern that will resonate with Republicans.
Obama's focus on inequality and the lack of a fair chance in today's economy for middle- and low-class Americans does not reflect Americans' top economic concerns, at least as measured by Gallup's open-ended question. But, a small percentage of Americans mention the unhealthy power of big business or corporations or the rich.
Many economic observers would argue that the worldwide economic situation is a major concern for the U.S. economy, but not many Americans volunteer international issues in response to this open-ended question. And, even as the situation in Iran is resulting in higher gas prices, few Americans in this Jan. 5-8 poll say that their biggest economic worry is the price of gas or oil, let alone Iran. This may change if there are more dramatic confrontations with Iran in the Arabian Gulf in the weeks and months ahead.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 5-8, 2012, with a random sample of 1,011 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
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 by 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 2011 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 www.gallup.com.