Economy Tops Americans’ Minds as Most Important Problem

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The FINANCIAL — Americans in February are slightly more likely to name the economy generally as the “most important problem facing the country” than they have been in the last two months. Seventeen percent of Americans name this issue as the top problem, up from 13% last month and 9% in December. In those months, the government and terrorism were more prominent in Americans’ minds, edging out the economy as the No. 1 problem.

In addition to the economy, at least 10% of U.S. adults mention dysfunctional government, immigration and unemployment/jobs as the top problem facing the nation.

The 7% of U.S. adults who name national security as the most important problem is higher than at any point since 2004. Seven percent of Americans also mentioned terrorism in February, but that is down from 9% in January and 16% in December as Americans responded to the Paris and San Bernardino, California, terrorist attacks. Mentions of guns and gun control as the top problem also fell in February to 2%, after 7% named this issue in January and December.

Altogether, 39% of Americans named some economic issue — including the economy in general, unemployment/jobs, the federal budget, wages and others — as the most important problem in February. That is up from less than 30% in December and January.

Republicans, Democrats Differ on What Is Most Important

While the economy in general ranked as a top issue among Republicans, independents and Democrats, partisans differ in what else they perceive to be most important. Republicans are more likely than Democrats and independents to name the federal budget deficit, immigration and national security. Democrats and independents are more likely than Republicans to name unemployment or jobs as most important. Democrats are also slightly more likely than independents and Republicans to name race relations, education and healthcare.

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Bottom Line

The economy and unemployment are again prominent in Americans’ minds as important problems, while noneconomic issues such as terrorism have faded. This could be important to Washington lawmakers as they attempt to agree on the next budget. President Barack Obama presented Congress with a budget outline, but Republican congressional leaders immediately rejected it.

As far as average Americans are concerned, the most pressing priority for the nation is keeping the economy vibrant and growing, fixing the way government itself operates, dealing with immigration and keeping the nation safe, especially from terrorism.

Exactly how well any final budget will address Americans’ priorities for the nation remains to be seen. Obama’s proposed budget continues to have a deficit, and 6% of Americans consider the federal budget deficit to be the most important problem facing the U.S. However, the president’s proposed budget also has significant spending to help young Americans get their first job and plans to reform unemployment insurance, both of which could respond to the 10% of Americans who say unemployment is the most important problem.

On the campaign front, several Republican candidates continue to talk about national security and stopping terrorism. These issues speak to fellow Republicans, for whom national security and terrorism are among the most important problems facing the country, but not to independents and Democrats, who are less likely to name these issues.


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