WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the prospect for armed U.S. intervention looms, 8% of Americans now believe the "situation in Syria" is the most important problem facing the U.S., marking the first time Syria has made the list. Nonetheless, the economy in general remains the No. 1 U.S. problem according to Americans, followed by jobs and unemployment, dissatisfaction with government, and healthcare.
These results come from a Sept. 5-8, 2013, poll, conducted before President Barack Obama's nationally televised address Tuesday regarding the potential for U.S. action in Syria. However, the poll was conducted after the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government raised the probability of a U.S. military response to the once-distant conflict.
With Syria coming to the fore, slightly fewer Americans express concern about the economy in general and unemployment/jobs compared with August.
As Congress returns from its August recess and considers issues related to the nation's finances, including reauthorizing the federal debt limit and passing a new budget, 5% of Americans name the federal deficit or federal debt as the top problem. This is down from 20% in January of this year, when the nation witnessed a political showdown over sequestration.
Economic Concerns Lowest of Obama Presidency
Less than a majority of Americans name some sort of economic problem as the most important problem in the U.S., for the first time since February 2008. The percentage naming an economic issue -- including the economy in general, unemployment, and the deficit -- peaked at 86% in February 2009, just after Obama took office. After declining for much of that year, to as low as 51% in October, economic mentions gradually rose to 76% in the fall of 2011, shortly after the debt ceiling controversy ended and amid high unemployment. But since that time, Americans' concern about economic matters has lessened considerably.
By comparison, a higher 65% of Americans mention some non-economic issue in response to the "most important problem" question, including dissatisfaction with government, the Syria situation, and healthcare. The percentage naming a non-economic issue has exceeded the percentage mentioning an economic issue in each of the last five months. This contrasts with July 2010 through March 2013, when Americans were more likely to mention economic concerns than non-economic ones.
While the actions the U.S. will take, if any, in response to allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria remain unclear, Americans are starting to pay attention. Seventy-one percent last week told Gallup they were following the news about Syria closely, and it now ranks as one of the top five problems facing the country, although still lagging behind concerns about the economy, government, and healthcare. Whether the sudden spike in concern over this issue is due more to the Syrian government's supposed use of chemical weapons or the possibility of a military response by the U.S. government is not certain.
Meanwhile, worry over the economy appears to be receding. The 48% who name an economic issue as most important problem is down from 63% in the first month of this year. And, as Congress reconvenes to debate issues related to the nation's debt and deficit, anxiety related to these issues has fallen dramatically -- though this could change if a legislative stalemate again raises the threat of governmental shutdown or a national debt default.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 5-8, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,510 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 ±3 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 and cell telephone 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, and cellphone mostly). 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.