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Election 2016
Economy Remains Top Priority for Next President
Election 2016

Economy Remains Top Priority for Next President

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Economy tops list of Americans' priorities for next president
  • Immigration second-most-frequently mentioned
  • Other priorities include defense, healthcare, education

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Americans mention the economy more than any other concern when asked what single issue the next president should focus on when he or she takes office next January. They also frequently mention immigration, healthcare, defense and national security, and education as top priorities.

Regardless of who wins the election, what single issue or challenge are you most interested in having the next president address when he or she takes office next January? [OPEN-ENDED]
  May 18-22, 2016
The economy 19
Immigration 14
Healthcare/Healthcare costs/Healthcare reform 10
Defense/National Defense/Homeland security 9
Education 8
The federal deficit/The budget 7
Wages/Earning a decent wage/Decline of middle class 6
Jobs/Unemployment 6
Terrorism 5
Foreign policy/affairs 4
Big government/Government invasion of privacy 4
Race relations/Equal rights 3
Restoring respect to the office of president 3
Taxes 2
Poverty/The poor/Homelessness 2
The environment/Pollution 2
Gun control 2
Uniting Americans 2
Moral issues/Ethics/Religion 2
Nothing 3
No opinion 4
Note: Responses with at least 2% mentions are shown.

These latest data are from Gallup's May 18-22 election benchmark survey. Americans' responses to this open-ended question are similar to those measured in January, showing that the issues on which the public wants the next president to focus haven't changed after five additional months of intense campaigning and issue discussion in the string of debates held during that time.

The next president, if intent on following the will of the people, will clearly need to keep a sustained focus on economic issues. Not only do Americans spontaneously mention the economy more often than any other issue, but they also name several other economically related priorities, including the federal deficit, wages and the decline of the middle class, jobs/unemployment, taxes and poverty.

The next president will at the same time face the challenge of responding to other public concerns, including the perennial challenge of keeping the nation safe and secure, immigration, healthcare and education.

Economy Also Ranks as Issue Most Important to Vote

A separate question included in the May poll asked Americans to rate the importance of each of 17 specific issues in determining their vote for president, on a scale from extremely important to not important. The economy tops this list too, with more than nine in 10 Americans ranking it as extremely or very important, followed by employment and jobs, terrorism and national security, education and healthcare.

Now I am going to read a list of some of the issues that will probably be discussed in this year's presidential election campaign. As I read each one, please tell me how important the candidates' positions on that issue will be in influencing your vote for president -- extremely important, very important, somewhat important or not important.
  Extremely/Very important
The economy 92
Employment and jobs 89
Terrorism and national security 87
Education 86
Healthcare and the Affordable Care Act 83
The federal budget deficit 78
Foreign affairs 74
Taxes 71
Immigration 69
The treatment of minority groups in this country 66
The distribution of income and wealth in the United States 65
The size and efficiency of the federal government 64
Gun policy 63
Trade with other nations 61
Government regulation of Wall Street and banks 59
Social issues such as gay marriage and abortion 48
Climate change 47
Gallup, May 18-22, 2016

The general rank-order of issues on this list is broadly similar to the responses to the open-ended question.

One exception is immigration, which is lower on the list when Americans evaluate its importance to their vote than it is when they offer top-of-mind responses about the issue they most want the next president to address. This could suggest that immigration is of high importance to a segment of the population, for whom it comes to mind immediately, but that it is of relatively low importance to the public at large.


The presidential candidates and, in turn, the next president of the United States, would be well-advised to keep a strong focus on the economy, which -- although not the dominant issue it has been in previous elections -- is clearly a common concern.

Americans also want their next president to focus on several fundamental issues: immigration, defense and national security, healthcare and education.

Although education is not solely or even the primary responsibility of the federal government, massive government initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and its recent successor law Every Student Succeeds have made it a clear target for federal intervention. Additionally, candidates in this election cycle have been called on to discuss their positions on the Common Core curriculum, and several have advocated major federal involvement in helping ensure that every child has pre-K education. Additionally, Sanders and Clinton have put forth proposals that in various ways call for lowered or free tuition at public colleges and community colleges.

Healthcare has become an even more important federal government focus in recent years with the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, one of the most significant interventions of the federal government into the healthcare arena since Medicare. All candidates have taken positions on what should happen to the ACA, with Sanders proposing to replace it with a single-payer "Medicare for all" system, Trump proposing to repeal it, and Clinton advocating keeping it in place, albeit it with tweaks.

Notably, Americans appear to have low priorities for other issues that have been discussed on the campaign trail and in the debates, including gay marriage, abortion, climate change, foreign trade and Supreme Court nominations. The low priority for foreign trade as a presidential issue could obscure "hidden" concerns about trade in Americans' mentions of the economy and jobs.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 18-22, 2016, with a random sample of 1,530 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, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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