- Increased worry about drug use, Social Security and healthcare
- Fewer are worried about energy and the environment
- Six in 10 worry about inflation and the economy, highest among issues
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Among 15 key problems facing the country, more Americans worry about inflation and the economy than any others, with six in 10 expressing “a great deal” of concern about these issues.
Americans are about as concerned with inflation and the economy as they were a year ago, but they are more worried now about drug use, healthcare and Social Security. They are less likely to say they worry about energy and the environment.
The results are based on Gallup’s annual Environment survey, conducted March 1-23.
In addition to inflation and the economy, at least half of U.S. adults also worry a great deal about healthcare (54%), crime and violence (54%), federal spending and the budget deficit (52%), and hunger and homelessness (50%).
Issues of moderate concern -- with between 41% and 46% worried -- include drug use, the Social Security system, guns, energy and illegal immigration.
Unemployment ranks last among the 15 issues in terms of the percentage worried about it, with 32% concerned a great deal. The U.S. unemployment rate reached a 54-year low in January. Terrorism, race relations and the environment are also areas of lesser concern for Americans.
From a broader perspective, an average of 45% worry a great deal about the 12 issues that have been measured consistently since 2005 (these exclude federal spending, guns and inflation). That ties 2011 as the highest average worry level, although the range of this average has been fairly narrow between 38% and 45% in the past 18 years.
Economic Matters Often Among Greatest Concerns
Inflation and the economy have been the top two issues in both 2022 and 2023, as the rate of price increases in the U.S. reached levels not seen in four decades. These are the only years Gallup has included inflation on the list.
Gallup has tracked worry about the economy since 2001, and concern about it has varied in response to differing economic conditions, from a low of 33% worried a great deal in 2019 and 2020 (largely before the coronavirus pandemic) to a high of 71% in 2011 and 2012 (amid high unemployment after the Great Recession as well as the debt-ceiling crisis in Washington).
The economy was also the top issue concern in each survey between 2008 and 2014, and it tied with healthcare as the top issue in 2016. When the economy has not been the No. 1 concern, healthcare has typically occupied the top spot, including in 2002 through 2007, 2015, and 2017 through 2020. Crime ranked first in 2001, and hunger and homelessness did in 2021.
Drug-Use Concern Back Up
Americans are more concerned about drug use (46% worry a great deal) than they have been over the past three years, though they are far less worried than they were in 2001, when 58% were. Concern about drug use had fallen a total of nine percentage points between 2019 and 2022, before increasing back to near-2019 levels this year. The increase is perhaps tied to higher rates of opioid drug overdose, particularly among teens, many tied to the drug fentanyl.
Concern about drug use has increased in the past year among Republicans (up 10 points to 61%), Democrats (up 12 points to 34%) and independents (up six points to 46%).
Social Security More Worrisome
Like drug use, Americans’ worry about Social Security had also eased in recent years, falling to a low of 38% worried a great deal in 2020. Last year, 40% worried about Social Security, and now 45% do. The issue gained added prominence during President Joe Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address, when he challenged Republicans to commit to protecting Social Security as the GOP looks for ways to cut federal spending.
The high point in worry about Social Security was 53% in 2010.
Republicans are no more concerned about Social Security than they were a year ago, but they still express more concern (51% worry a great deal) than Democrats (41%) and independents (32%) do. The latest figures reflect a nine-point increase since 2022 among Democrats and a seven-point jump among independents.
Democrats were more worried about Social Security when Donald Trump was president between 2017 and 2020 (averaging 52%), while Republicans (36%) were far less so, but that has flipped during the Biden years.
Worry about healthcare also increased five points this year, after dropping to a trend low of 49% last year. It remains well below the high of 68% worried a great deal in 2006.
Republicans (50%, up from 44%) and independents (53%, up from 45%) are more worried about healthcare this year than a year ago, while Democrats (58%) are unchanged.
Energy Concern Subsides
Last year, when gas prices were rising rapidly before hitting a record high in June, 47% of Americans said they worried a great deal about the availability and affordability of energy, one point below the high Gallup measured in both 2006 and 2012. The 2022 figure represented a 10-point surge from 2021.
Now, with gas prices averaging about 80 cents less per gallon than a year ago, and about $1.50 less than the peak in June, concern about energy has eased. Forty-one percent of U.S. adults express a great deal of worry about energy.
There has been a similar drop in Americans’ concern about the quality of the environment, with the percentage worried a great deal falling five points from 44% in 2022 to 39% this year.
The 44% concerned about the environment was on the higher end of what Gallup has measured historically, with the high point being 47% in 2017 and 2019. This year’s 39% concern figure is the lowest since 34% in 2015. The record low was 31% in 2014.
When there are economic challenges, Americans are usually more concerned about those than other issues facing the country. And that is the case now, with elevated inflation, higher interest rates, depressed stock values and fears of an upcoming recession. Americans’ concern about the economy is higher than Gallup has measured in most prior years but still below post-Great Recession levels.
While Americans are about as worried about the economy and inflation as they were a year ago, they are now more concerned about Social Security, drug use and healthcare. Meanwhile, they are less likely to worry about energy and the environment.
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