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More Americans Cite COVID-19 as Most Important U.S. Problem

More Americans Cite COVID-19 as Most Important U.S. Problem

Story Highlights

  • Mentions of coronavirus rose in July to 30%, up from 20% a month earlier
  • Fewer than one in 10 Americans now name the economy as U.S. top problem
  • Still, explicit ratings of the economy remain mostly negative

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans grew more likely in the past month to consider the coronavirus or COVID-19 to be the nation's top problem, with the percentage citing it rising from 20% in a May 28-June 4 poll to 30% in July. Still, this remains well below the 45% high in April when most of the country was under shelter-in-place orders to avoid further spread of the disease.

The economy, meanwhile, became less of a top-of-mind concern for Americans, with net economic mentions falling by about half from 19% to 9%.

Recent Trend in Amerians' View of Most Important Problem in the U.S.
What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?
Apr 1-14 May 28-Jun 4 Jul 1-23
% % %
Net Economic Problems 13 19 9
-- Economy in general 6 8 4
-- Unemployment/Jobs 3 5 2
-- Gap between rich and poor 2 3 1
-- Other economic 5 3 1
Net Non-Economic Problems 87 82 90
-- Coronavirus/Diseases 45 20 30
-- The government/Poor leadership 20 21 23
-- Race relations/Racism 1 19 16
-- Unifying the country 3 4 6
-- Crime/Violence * 3 5
-- Judicial system/Courts/Laws * 2 3
-- Ethics/Moral/Religious/Family decline 2 3 2
-- Lack of respect for each other 2 4 2
-- The media 2 2 2
-- Healthcare 6 3 2
-- Immigration 2 2 1
-- Education 1 1 1
-- National security * * 1
-- Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness 1 1 1
-- Elections/Election reform * 1 1
-- Climate change/Environment/Pollution 1 2 1
-- Other non-economic 3 4 6
No opinion 2 2 2
Shown are responses with at least 1% mentions in July
Gallup, 2020

The latest poll was conducted July 1-23, as the percentage of Americans getting back to work continued to inch up, but a week before the Commerce Department announced that the economy contracted by a record amount in the second quarter.

Most of the recent decline in net economic mentions occurred among Republicans and those who lean Republican -- down 13 percentage points to 8%, from 21% in May/June. That compares with a seven-point decline, from 17% to 10%, among Democrats and Democratic-leaners. Mentions of the coronavirus, on the other hand, increased almost exclusively among Democrats, up 14 points to 38%.

Meanwhile, top-of-mind mentions of the government (23%) and race relations (16%) were fairly steady among Americans as a whole, as was "unifying the country" (6%).

"Healthcare" and Immigration Fade as Top of Mind U.S. Concerns

Other notable shifts in Americans' conception of the nation's top problem have emerged in recent months that are reflective of current events and the nation's overwhelming focus on the coronavirus, to the exclusion of other issues.

  • Five percent of Americans mentioned crime in July following a 3% reading the prior month. Earlier in the year, no more than 1% had mentioned crime in any month. It has been four years (August 2016) since the figure last hit 5%.

  • The judicial system, including mentions of the courts or laws, is also up slightly, now named by 3% of all Americans, whereas it registered less than 1% as recently as April.

  • Despite the overwhelming healthcare challenges posed by the coronavirus, Americans' mentions of "healthcare" itself have dwindled to 2%, down from 11% prior to the pandemic. This category of mentions tends to involve references to the healthcare system, healthcare costs or lack of healthcare coverage.

  • Public concern about immigration had already fallen from an average 18% in 2019 to an average 8% in the first quarter of 2020 but is now mentioned by 1%, similar to the figures since April.

Direct Economic Evaluations Still Mostly Negative

While fewer Americans considered the economy to be the nation's top problem in July, the public's explicit ratings of current economic conditions and whether the economy is getting better or worse remained negative.

Twenty-nine percent of Americans now say economic conditions are "excellent" or "good," up from 23% the prior month. But the large majority still characterize current conditions as "only fair" (38%) or "poor" (33%).

The latest ratings also continue to be far worse than in January and February, when more than six in 10 Americans saw the economy in decidedly positive terms.


Line graph. Monthly trend since January 2020 in Americans rating of current economic conditions. Percentage rating it excellent or good is now 29% and has been below 30% since April compared with 63% in February.

Americans' perception of the direction of the economy is also stuck in negative territory, albeit slightly improved from the low point recorded in April. Just over a third now think the economy is "getting better" (35%), while 60% say it is "getting worse."


Line graph. Monthly trend since January 2020 in Americans outlook for the economy. Percentage saying it is getting better is now 35%. That is improved from 22% in April but well below 61% in February.

Bottom Line

Corresponding with their increased worry about rising COVID-19 infection rates around the country, more Americans in July cited the pandemic as the nation's top problem than did so in late May/early June. At the same time, mentions of the economy decreased, although that could change given the discouraging economic news that the country's GDP declined at an annualized rate of nearly 33% in the second quarter.

The decline in the percentage of Americans mentioning the economy as the top problem belies their negative evaluations of the economy when asked about it directly. While some of Americans' concern about the economy may be subsumed in their citing of the coronavirus as the top problem, relatively few of those responses (which Gallup records verbatim) reference the economy. Most refer generally to the pandemic or mention the government's handling of it.

It's only a theory, but, Americans' disinclination to name the economy as the nation's top problem may be because they view the economic downturn as another symptom of COVID-19 that will heal itself when the medical crisis is over, rather than a "problem" that can be solved.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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