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Record in U.S. Name COVID-19 as Most Urgent Health Problem

Record in U.S. Name COVID-19 as Most Urgent Health Problem

Story Highlights

  • 69% mention COVID-19 or viruses this year
  • Prior high was 62% for AIDS in 1987
  • Healthcare cost, access fade as concerns amid pandemic this year

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sixty-nine percent of Americans name COVID-19 specifically, or "viruses" generally, as the most urgent health problem facing the United States, a higher percentage than Gallup has measured for any issue in its trend. The prior high was 62% mentioning AIDS in 1987, the first year Gallup asked the question.

Highest Percentages Mentioning Issues as Most Urgent Health Problem, 1987-2020
What would you say is the most urgent health problem facing this country at the present time? [OPEN-ENDED]
Year Percent mentioning
COVID-19/Viruses 2020 69
AIDS 1987 62
AIDS 1991 50
AIDS 1992 41
AIDS 1999 33
Healthcare cost 1992 30
AIDS 1997 29
Healthcare cost 2004 29
Healthcare access 2008 29
Healthcare access 2007 29
Note: 1991 data are based on average of two polls conducted that year.

Gallup has asked about the most urgent health problem a total of 26 times since 1987. The latest measure was taken in Gallup's annual Health and Healthcare poll, conducted Nov. 5-19.

AIDS was the dominant issue between 1987 and 1999, ranking first in each of the five years the question was asked (1987, 1991, 1992, 1997 and 1999) and accounting for five of the highest percentages naming an issue historically, ranging from 29% to 62%.

In 2000, healthcare cost topped the list of concerns, with 24% of Americans mentioning it, while AIDS dropped to 18%. A year later, mentions of AIDS fell into single digits and have remained there. No more than 1% of Americans have cited AIDS since 2009.

Line graph. Mentions of AIDS as the most urgent health problem facing the U.S. have fallen from a then-record 62% in 1987 to 18% in 2000, with less than 10% mentions since then, including 0% this year.

Starting in 2000, Americans' health concerns have shifted more toward problems with the healthcare system than with specific health conditions. Healthcare cost or access has been the top concern for most of the past two decades. The exceptions were 2001, when bioterrorism topped the list amid a series of anthrax attacks sent via the mail; 2014, when the Ebola virus tied cost and access as the top issue; and this year.

With COVID-19 commanding the public's attention in 2020, just 4% mention cost or access in the latest survey. Four percent also mention cancer or obesity, with no other concern registering more than 1%.

Most Urgent Health Problem, 2020
What would you say is the most urgent health problem facing this country at the present time? [OPEN-ENDED]
Percent mentioning
COVID-19/Viruses 69
Cancer 4
Healthcare cost 4
Obesity 4
Healthcare access 4
Heart disease 1
Mental illness 1
Diabetes 1
Government interference 1
Drug/Alcohol abuse 1
Other 6
No opinion 3
Gallup, Nov. 5-19, 2020

As would be expected, COVID-19 is the preeminent concern among all major subgroups. Democrats (including Democratic-leaning independents) are, however, much more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to name it, 78% to 57%. Eight percent of Republicans mention cancer, 7% name obesity and 5% healthcare cost.

Americans who have a preexisting medical condition, or live with someone who does, are slightly more likely than those who do not to mention COVID-19, 71% to 66%.

Bottom Line

It comes as no surprise that Americans consider COVID-19 as the most urgent health problem facing the country, after millions have been infected and more than 270,000 have died from it. The virus has led to widespread closures of businesses and schools, and has transformed the way people live, work and shop -- at least temporarily. No other issue has been named by a greater percentage of Americans as the top health challenge than COVID-19 in at least 33 years, although AIDS came close in the late 1980s. COVID-19 currently also ranks as the most important problem facing the U.S., although far fewer Americans (28%) assign it that distinction than name it the most urgent health problem.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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