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Government Ranks as Top U.S. Problem for Third Year

Government Ranks as Top U.S. Problem for Third Year

Story Highlights

  • More than one in four Americans cite government as top problem in 2019
  • Immigration ranks second, while race relations and healthcare tie for third
  • Economic issues mostly absent from top mentions in recent years

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the third straight year, the government and certain domestic challenges have been at the forefront of Americans' minds when asked to name "the most important problem facing the country today." At the same time, economic and national security concerns have been conspicuously absent from the top mentions.

The 27% of Americans who name the government as the top challenge this year exceeds the average of 22% in 2018 and is the highest annual average for the problem in Gallup records.

Gallup has been asking its Most Important Problem question since 1939, including monthly measures since 2001 as part of the Gallup Poll Social Series. The accompanying graph displays the top four issues for each year from 2001 to 2019 based on the average annual results.

Table. The top four concerns that Americans mention as the nation’s most important problem from 2001 to 2019.

The government category -- encompassing concerns about President Donald Trump, Congress and government dysfunction in general -- has topped Gallup's Most Important Problem list five of the past six years and has appeared among the top four problems almost every year since 2005. The only exception is 2008, when soaring gas prices crowded out mentions of the government.

'Government' a Bipartisan Concern

Given the mix of concerns included in the government category, it receives roughly equal mentions from Republicans and Democrats. Republicans are most likely to name the Democrats in Congress as the top problem while Democrats tend to name Trump and the Republicans in Congress.

Aside from partisanship, there is also an age skew to government mentions in 2019. On average, the government is named by 39% of adults aged 65 and older and by 32% of those aged 50 to 64, versus 22% of those aged 30 to 49 and 17% of those aged 18 to 29.

Immigration Is Leading Domestic Policy Concern

As it was in 2018, immigration is the only issue aside from government that averages double-digit mentions in 2019.

Race relations ranks a distant third at 6%, unchanged from its position in each of the past two years. Healthcare has reappeared in the top four mentions in 2019 after dropping out in 2018.

Economy Has Gradually Faded From Top Four

The last time that a distinctly economic issue rose to the top four problems in annual mentions was in 2017, when jobs was in fourth place, mentioned by an average of 7% of Americans. The last time the economy or jobs ranked first was in 2016 -- but before that, the economy and jobs had been sinking as leading concerns.

The economy peaked as a concern in 2009 at 40%, as the country was still reeling from the global financial crisis. Job-related concerns were highest in 2011 at 29%, reflecting public anxiety about the issue as unemployment averaged above 8% for the third consecutive year. By contrast, this year, 4% of Americans name the economy and 2% mention unemployment as the nation's top problem.

National Security an Even More Distant Concern

It has been more than a decade since national security concerns -- namely Iraq and terrorism -- appeared among the top four problems. By contrast, these were among the dominant concerns from 2001 to 2008.

December Concerns Similar to 2019 Averages

The problems on Americans' minds at the end of this year are similar to the annual averages for 2019, although immigration has waned as a top concern, mentioned by 10% in December versus 18% on average throughout the year. Immigration peaked as a concern in June amid intense news coverage about high numbers of Central American immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mentions of government were highest this year in January and February, spanning the end of the longest government shutdown on record, and again at the end of the year as Trump faced impeachment in Congress.

Meanwhile, mentions of race relations and healthcare have consistently registered between 5% and 8% each month.

Line graph. Monthly trend for top four most important problems facing the country as named by Americans in 2019.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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