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Economy, Elections Top Problems Facing U.S.

Economy, Elections Top Problems Facing U.S.

by Gary J. Gates
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Race relations, healthcare, unemployment also mentioned
  • Concerns about elections highest Gallup has recorded
  • Unifying country, lack of respect for others also at new highs

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The economy and elections top the list of the nation's most important problems in Gallup's first post-election update of this question. Fourteen percent of Americans identify the economy as the most important problem, and 11% name elections or election reform. Prior to this year, "elections" has never been this high on the list. Nearly as many mention race relations or racism (10%), healthcare (10%) and unemployment or jobs (9%).

Most Important Problems Facing the Nation
What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?
Oct 5-9 Nov 9-13
% %
Economy in general 17 14
Elections/Election reform 7 11
Race relations/Racism 10 10
Healthcare 4 10
Unemployment/Jobs 6 9
Dissatisfaction with government/Poor leadership 12 8
Unifying the country 2 6
Immigration/Illegal aliens 7 5
Lack of respect for each other 2 5
Federal budget deficit/Federal debt 4 3
Ethics/Moral/Religious/Family decline 3 3
Environment/Pollution 3 3
National security 7 3
Gap between rich and poor 2 2
Foreign policy/Foreign aid/Focus overseas 2 2
Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness 2 2
Terrorism 5 2
Judicial system/Courts/Laws 1 2
Education 2 2
Lack of money 1 1
Taxes 1 1
High cost of living/Inflation * 1
Wage issues * 1
Crime/Violence 3 1
Welfare 1 1
Abortion * 1
Drugs * 1
Energy/Lack of energy sources * 1
Lack of military defense 1 1
Situation in Iraq/ISIS 1 1
* = Less than 0.5%

Overall, 31% of the public mention issues related to the economy as the nation's most important problem. Besides the economy in general and unemployment, these economic problems include the federal debt (3%) and the gap between the rich and the poor (2%). The percentage of total economic mentions is unchanged from October's reading, despite sharp increases in economic confidence since the election.

While the economy ranking at the top of the list is not new, the 11% of Americans mentioning elections as the country's top problem is the largest percentage to say so since Gallup started tracking this question monthly in 2001. The plurality of Americans voted for a candidate (Hillary Clinton) who will not become president. Dissatisfaction with the election results largely explains the increase -- from 7% in October to 11% in November -- in the percentage mentioning elections and election reform as the top problem in the U.S. The vast majority of the mentions in this category refer to Donald Trump's election, in particular, as the nation's top problem.

Also likely reflecting the election results and the ensuing nationwide protests, new highs say "unifying the country" (6%) and "a lack of respect for each other" (5%) are the most important problems facing the nation. The percentage of Americans concerned about race relations (10%) is unchanged from October and remains on the higher end of what Gallup has measured since 2001. It was lower, ranging from 5% to 7%, in the first half of 2016.

Americans' mentions of healthcare as the nation's most important problem have more than doubled since the election, rising to 10% from 4% in October. Since April, no more than 5% of Americans had cited this as the country's most important problem. The spike in November could reflect uncertainty associated with Trump's campaign promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Dissatisfaction with government has declined since October, from 12% to 8%. Of note, President Barack Obama's job approval rating is currently at a four-year high. Americans' frustrations with politics may center more on the election than the incumbent government.

Bottom Line

Domestic policy issues such as the economy, elections, race relations, healthcare and unemployment dominate the problems that Americans say are the most important facing the country. Recent Gallup polling shows Americans have relatively high expectations that the president-elect can effectively address some of these major concerns. Substantial majorities (upward of 60%) believe the Trump administration will improve the economy and create jobs. A slim majority (52%) say he'll improve the healthcare system.

But Americans are more skeptical of Trump's ability to improve race relations, perhaps reflecting some of the divisive comments he made during the campaign. Slightly more than one-third (35%) think he will be successful in dealing with that issue.

Foreign policy issues rank relatively low among the nation's most important problems. Just 3% cite national security and 2% cite foreign policy as big concerns, and another 2% mention terrorism. Expectations for the Trump administration on these issues are mixed -- 57% say Trump will keep the U.S. safe from terrorism, while 38% say he will keep the nation out of war.

If the president-elect were to use these data as a guide, the results suggest that his top priorities should be the economy and jobs, unifying the country after a close election, race relations, healthcare, and providing strong leadership.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,019 adults aged 18 and older, living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, conducted Nov. 9-13, 2016. The margin of error for each item is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults in the 2016 data 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 complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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