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Mentions of Government as Top U.S. Problem Near Record High

Mentions of Government as Top U.S. Problem Near Record High

Story Highlights

  • Near-record-high 34% say government/leadership is top problem in U.S.
  • Satisfaction with U.S. direction down; Republicans less satisfied than in September
  • Government top issue for both parties; views differ on satisfaction

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Amid House Democrats' impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine, a near-record-high 34% of Americans cite the government, poor leadership or politicians as the most important problem currently facing the U.S. This latest reading marks an 11-percentage-point increase since September and is just one point shy of the all-time high Gallup has recorded for mentions of government, from February, after the government shutdown ended.

Meanwhile, Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. has fallen back to 28%, primarily because Republicans are less likely to be satisfied. Satisfaction overall has returned to the level seen during and shortly after the nation's longest federal government shutdown last winter. While partisans' satisfaction with the country's direction differs greatly, Democrats and Republicans each view the government as the nation's top problem.

Government Remains Top Problem in the U.S.

Gallup has tracked Americans' views of the nation's most important problems since 1939. For over five years -- between February 2008 and September 2013 -- economic-related issues topped the list of most important problems every month. Economic issues returned to the top of the list periodically between 2014 and 2017, but have not done so since January 2017. Overall mentions of economic problems this month match August's 11% low for the trend since Gallup began to ask the question monthly in 2001.

"Government," which includes negative comments about leadership and politicians, has been the top problem in 31 of Gallup's 34 readings since January 2017. In the remaining three polls, immigration surpassed government, which was the second-most-mentioned issue. Although government was also the top problem in September, its 11-point jump in mentions this month is most certainly owing to daily developments in the impeachment investigation over the course of the Oct. 1-13 poll's field period.

Most Important Problem in the U.S.
What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? [OPEN-ENDED]
September 2019 October 2019
% %
Government/Poor leadership/Politicians 23 34
Immigration 16 13
Race relations 6 6
Healthcare/Health insurance 5 5
Unifying the country 4 5
Environment/Pollution/Climate change 6 4
Problems mentioned by less than 4% of U.S. adults in October are not shown.

Average mentions of government have been on the rise since 2017, coinciding with an increasingly polarized political climate. This year, the lowest percentage of Americans naming government as the chief problem has been 22% in August.

Line graph. Americans’ mentions of government as the most important problem in the U.S. since 2001.

Before October 2013, when 33% cited dysfunctional government during the federal government shutdown, the highest percentage naming the government was 26% during the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation.

The current 34% of the public citing the government includes 41% of Democrats, 36% of Republicans and 27% of independents. The Democratic and Republican figures have each jumped 13 points since September, with the reading among independents rising eight points.

While both major parties are disgruntled with government in general, their ire is focused on different groups. In the same poll, presidential job approval remained flat at 39%, while approval of Congress rose seven points to 25%. Republicans still largely approve of Trump and disapprove of Congress, but Democrats nearly unanimously disapprove of Trump, and their approval of Congress has climbed from 19% to 34%.

An analysis of the verbatim responses to the "most important problem" question corroborates the partisan divides on presidential and congressional approval. Republican mentions of Congress and political parties far exceed mentions by Democrats, and citations of the president and impeachment are much more common among Democrats than Republicans. For their part, independents name Congress and the president about equally.

Satisfaction With U.S. Direction Falls to Early 2019 Levels

Another byproduct of the events of the past few weeks is that Americans' satisfaction with the direction of the country has fallen five points to 28% -- returning to levels last seen in February, when the public registered their displeasure with the extended federal government shutdown.

Line graph. Americans’ satisfaction with the direction of the country since 1979.

Unlike this month's reading on the most important problem facing the U.S., partisans' satisfaction with the direction of the country diverges sharply, as 53% of Republicans, 26% of independents and 11% of Democrats say they are satisfied. This marks a 10-point decrease in satisfaction among Republicans since September, while the satisfaction levels of Democrats and independents are unchanged.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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