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Americans Name Dissatisfaction With Government as Top Problem

Americans Name Dissatisfaction With Government as Top Problem

by Art Swift
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 21% name dissatisfaction with government/poor leadership as top problem
  • Other frequently cited problems are healthcare, immigration and the economy
  • Satisfaction with way things are going in U.S. at 32%

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than one in five U.S. adults cite dissatisfaction with the government and political leadership as the most important problem in the country. This is by far the problem U.S. adults most frequently mention, followed by healthcare, immigration and the economy. Americans have often named government dissatisfaction as the top problem in the nation.

Dissatisfaction With Government/Poor Leadership Remains Top Problem
What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? [Open-ended]
Dissatisfaction with government/Poor leadership Healthcare Immigration Economy
% % % %
Apr 5-9, 2017 21 9 8 8
Mar 1-5, 2017 18 7 12 8
Feb 1-5, 2017 19 5 13 9
Jan 4-8, 2017 11 9 4 11

The current level of dissatisfaction with the government is the highest since October 2013 to January 2014, after the partial government shutdown that October. The only other period during Gallup's polling history when a higher percentage of Americans cited government as the most important problem was in 1973 and 1974 during the Watergate crisis.

With a new presidential administration in office, the government has again emerged as the top problem in the country. Much of the increase in dissatisfaction stems from negativity toward the president, as substantial percentages of Americans simply say "Donald Trump" when asked to name the most important problem facing the country. Mentions of Trump were also common during the 2016 presidential campaign and were a reason why the election was typically among the highest-ranking problems last year.

With the debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, reaching a climax in Congress this past month, healthcare ranked as the second-most-important problem. For the past six months, healthcare has ranged from 4% to 10% of all mentions.

Unifying the country (7%) is also notable, since it has spiked at various times in recent months, including measures of 6% in November after the election and 10% in February after Trump's inauguration. Americans appear to be concerned about the divisiveness of politics today. Prior to last fall, no more than 3% of Americans had ever mentioned bringing the country together as the most important problem.

Notably, U.S. adults' citing of race relations/racism as the most important problem has been on the decline in recent months. At 4% now, race relations was at a high of 18% nine months ago and was 10% as recently as January. This may be due to a lack of high-profile incidents involving blacks nationwide, especially regarding contentious issues with police.

U.S. Satisfaction Remains Low

Perhaps reflecting Americans' dissatisfaction with government, overall satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. remains low, at 32%. Since 2005, satisfaction has often not been higher than 36%. The historical average in Gallup's trend since 1979 is 37%.

Satisfaction in U.S. Remains Low

Satisfaction now is about triple what it was at its lowest point in recent years, 11% in September 2011. Yet the last time satisfaction was over 50% was in January 2004, while George W. Bush was in his first term as president.

Bottom Line

In the first months of the Trump administration, sentiment that government and poor leadership is the most important problem facing the nation is strengthening. This can be attributed to many Americans saying that Trump is the source of the problem.

With Trump in office, satisfaction with the way things are going has not yet risen to levels higher than those seen during the Obama administration. However, the president's term is still new and satisfaction may rebound. Americans generally do not believe the government is as severe a problem as it was during the government shutdown of 2013-2014, but belief that it is the most important problem is on the rise.

It is obvious that the vast majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. This chronic dissatisfaction may be a result of a divisive political landscape and a 24-hour news cycle filled with partisan media.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 5-9, 2017, with a random sample of 1,019 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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