PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans put reforming immigration and reducing gun violence -- the focus of much of the attention on Capitol Hill in recent weeks -- at the bottom of a list of 12 priorities for Congress and the president to address. Americans instead say leaders in Washington should give highest priority to jobs and the economy, followed by making government work more efficiently and improving the quality of education.
These data are from Gallup Daily tracking conducted May 4-5, in the midst of continuing disagreements on how to reform the nation's immigration laws, and highly contentious lobbying on the part of gun control groups and the National Rifle Association on the issue of gun laws. But these arguments clearly do not reflect the average American's views on what should occupy the time of those in Washington. The roughly half of Americans who indicate they would like Congress and the president to make reducing gun violence and reforming immigration top priorities is more than 30 percentage points lower than the 86% who say creating jobs and growing the economy should be a top or a high priority.
The average priority rating for all 12 issues tested is 71%. In addition to making the government work more efficiently and improving education, Americans give the financial problems with Social Security and Medicare an above-average rating. At the other end of the scale, reforming the tax code, and reducing poverty and inequality are significantly below the overall average. The complete results for each issue are on page 2.
Democrats Put a Much Higher Priority on Healthcare and Guns
Republicans and Democrats assign similar priority ratings to a number of issues, including creating jobs, growing the economy, making the government work more efficiently, addressing problems with Social Security and Medicare, and reforming the tax code.
But Democrats and Republicans give vastly different ratings to two issues -- access to healthcare and reducing gun violence. Democrats are more than 30 points more likely than Republicans to say improving access to healthcare and reducing gun violence should be top or high priorities for Congress and the president. The differences in views of healthcare may reflect the highly politicized nature of the Affordable Care Act, and the divergent perspectives on gun violence underscore that this issue has taken on significant political overtones.
Democrats also give higher priority to reducing poverty and inequality, reducing the costs of healthcare, and improving education.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to prioritize reducing the federal deficit and reforming immigration. The interpretation of Republicans' higher interest in government "reforming" immigration may reflect a number of factors, including the possibility that Republicans may favor the government's taking more actions to restrict illegal immigration or to deal with illegal immigrants already in the country.
Many factors come into play in determining the priority Congress and the president give to specific legislation and other policy actions, particularly including pressure from interest groups and lobbyists, and the decisions of the president or specific influential members of Congress to push certain issues. For example, gun control groups put a renewed focus on gun legislation after the tragic shootings at Newtown, Conn., last December. Immigration reform -- long a congressional interest -- has received a new push since the 2012 elections that highlighted Republicans' weakness with Hispanic voters.
Still, despite this interest-group pressure, when the views of all Americans are averaged together, reducing gun violence and immigration reform receive the lowest priority rankings of the 12 issues tested. Instead, Americans would urge their elected representatives to focus on creating jobs, improving the economy, making the government run more efficiently, and improving the quality of education.
"Creating jobs" and "helping the economy grow" are of course broad and diffuse goals that do not easily translate into specific legislation. And even though there is significant consensus across party lines that these two issues should be given high priority, there are fundamental party disagreements on the broad approach that can be taken to achieve these goals. These disagreements no doubt have kept the Congress and the president from moving forward on these issues -- but to the degree that these elected representatives feel it is their duty to follow the wishes of those they represent, they would renew their focus on efforts to come to consensus on reaching these goals.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 4-5, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,021 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 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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.