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No Towering Problem in U.S. as Trump Takes Office

No Towering Problem in U.S. as Trump Takes Office

by Michael Smith
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Economy, government dissatisfaction top a cluster of issues
  • Race relations remains near top of list, continuing recent trend
  • Lack of dominant issue is a rare instance for incoming president

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Donald Trump becomes the 45th U.S. president, he faces a nation without one dominant, clear-cut problem. Between 8% and 11% of Americans, when asked to name the nation's most important problem, mention a cluster of issues, including the economy, dissatisfaction with government, race relations, healthcare, unemployment and election reform.

Most Important Problems Facing the U.S.
What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?
  Jan 4-8, 2017
Economy in general 11
Government dissatisfaction 11
Race relations/Racism 10
Healthcare 9
Elections/Election reform 8
Unemployment 8
Terrorism 5
Education 4
Ethics/Moral decline 4
Federal budget deficit 4
Immigration 4
Crime/Violence 3
Lack of money 3
Lack of respect for each other 3
National security 3
Other 3
Unifying the country 3
Gap between rich and poor 2
Judicial system 2
No opinion 2
Poverty/Homelessness 2
Situation in Iraq/ISIS 2
Wage issues 2

The 11% mentioning both the economy and dissatisfaction with government are the lowest percentages recorded for the most commonly mentioned "most important problem" since Gallup began asking this question in 1939. These are, however, in line with the recent dispersal of Americans' national concerns. December's top problems -- the economy and race relations -- both received mentions from 12% of Americans. In November, 14% of Americans mentioned the economy, that month's top problem. At least 20% of Americans have not identified a single issue as the nation's most important one since November 2014.

The 10% of Americans who now say race relations is the nation's most important problem is consistent with mentions in each of the past four months. Race relations garnered an average of 8% of mentions throughout 2016, although it was more prominent in the second half of the year -- starting with 18% of mentions in July -- than it was in the first half of the year when it ranged between 5% and 7%.

Nine percent of Americans consider healthcare to be the nation's most important problem; that includes 12% of Republicans, 9% of Democrats and 7% of independents. January's measure is up from 4% in December and up from its 2016 average of 5%. Americans' increased level of concern over healthcare could be due to the uncertainty surrounding the future of Obamacare as Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress vow to repeal it.

No Dominant Problem Signals No War and Decent Economy

The current lack of a dominant issue on Gallup's "most important problem" list is consistent with other times when the country was neither at war nor facing substantial economic problems, as those issues tend to surpass all others.

The number of U.S. troops in combat is a fraction of those in combat at times in the past decade when Americans consistently thought Iraq was the country's most important problem. The U.S. unemployment rate is at 5.5%, and the country's economic confidence recently reached its highest point since 2008.

The last time an incoming president faced a similarly dispersed cluster of the nation's most important issues was in January 2001, shortly before George W. Bush took office. At that time, ethics and moral decline (13%), education (12%), crime and violence (9%), and dissatisfaction with government (9%) were most commonly mentioned. At that time, the U.S. had not yet become involved in any wars, and the unemployment rate was 4.2%.

By contrast, at times when economic concerns were widespread or when the U.S. was involved in a major military conflict, those issues have often garnered more than 30% of the mentions as the nation's top problem.

The economy was the dominant problem as Barack Obama took office in 2009 (57%) and as Bill Clinton did in 1993 (35%). Economic concerns also dominated the list in 1981 for Ronald Reagan, when 70% said inflation and cost of living was the key issue, and in August 1974 for Gerald Ford (after President Richard Nixon's resignation), when 77% named inflation and cost of living.

The last new president to take office with war dominating the issue landscape -- or even appearing in the top three -- was Nixon in 1969 when 41% cited the Vietnam War as the nation's most urgent problem.

Most Important Problems Facing Incoming Administrations, 1969-2017
What is the most important problem facing the country today?
January 2017: Donald Trump  
Economy 11
Government dissatisfaction 11
Race relations 10
Healthcare 9
Elections/Election reform 8
Unemployment/Jobs 8
January 2009: Barack Obama  
Economy 57
Unemployment/Jobs 11
Lack of money 8
January 2001: George W. Bush  
Ethics/Moral decline 13
Education 12
Crime/Violence 9
Government dissatisfaction 9
January 1993: Bill Clinton  
Economy 35
Unemployment/Jobs 22
Healthcare 18
January 1981: Ronald Reagan  
Inflation/Cost of living 70
Unemployment/Jobs 8
Environment 5
August 1974: Gerald Ford  
Inflation/Cost of living 77
Government dissatisfaction 10
Ethics/Moral decline 3
International issues/Foreign aid 3
Unemployment/Jobs 3
January 1969: Richard Nixon  
Vietnam War 41
Race relations/Racism 8
Inflation/Cost of living 8
Data not available for January 1989 and January 1977

Bottom Line

Trump has promised to "make America great again," but according to the U.S. population, there isn't one key issue he must address to make that happen. With 26% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the country and Trump being a historically unpopular president-elect, his ability to fulfill his campaign slogan seems especially challenging.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 4-8, 2017, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,032 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 ±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 includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% 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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