Pressing Problems Facing the U.S.

Pressing Problems Facing the U.S.

Pressing Problems Facing the U.S.

The FINANCIAL -- With less than four weeks until the midterm elections, Republican and Democratic voters differ widely in views of the seriousness of numerous problems facing the United States, including the fairness of the criminal justice system, climate change, economic inequality and illegal immigration.

Majorities of registered voters who support Democratic candidates for Congress rate 13 of 18 issues as “very big” problems facing the country. Among voters who favor the Republican candidates in their districts, majorities rate only five issues as very big problems.

More striking, several of the issues that rank among the most serious problems among Democratic voters – including how minorities are treated by the criminal justice system, climate change, the rich-poor gap, gun violence and racism – are viewed as very big problems by fewer than a third of Republican voters.

For example, 71% of Democratic voters say the way racial and ethnic minorities are treated by the criminal justice system is a very big problem for the country, compared with just 10% of Republican voters. Other issues have a similarly large partisan gap: Democratic voters are 61 percentage points more likely than Republican voters to say climate change is a very big problem and are 55 points more likely to say this about the gap between the rich and poor.

By contrast, illegal immigration is the highest-ranked national problem among GOP voters, but it ranks lowest among the 18 issues for Democratic voters (75% and 19%, respectively, say it is a very big problem).

The new national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Sept. 24-Oct. 7 among 10,683 adults, including 8,904 registered voters, finds that majorities of GOP voters view several issues as either very big or moderately big problems facing the country. For example, while only 22% say the rich-poor gap is a very big problem, 61% say it is at least a moderately big problem for the country; 39% say it is either a small problem or not a problem at all. Among Democratic voters, 95% say the rich-poor divide is a very big or moderately big problem.

However, there are several issues that majorities of Republican voters say either are small problems or not problems at all. These include the treatment of people in the U.S. illegally (64% say it is small problem or not a problem at all); job opportunities for all Americans (61%); how minorities are treated by the criminal justice system (61%); and sexism (56%).Among voters who support the Democrat in their congressional district, 89% say sexism is a very big or moderately big problem, compared with 43% of GOP voters. And Democratic voters are about four times as likely as Republicans to say sexism is a very big problem for the country (50% vs. 12%).

The partisan divide in opinions about whether sexism is a serious problem is wider than the gender gap in these views. Nearly eight-in-ten women voters (79%) say sexism is at least a moderately big problem; 40% say it is very big problem. Among men voters, 58% say sexism is a very or moderately big problem (26% very big).

Overall, the shares viewing sexism as a very big problem were little changed over the field period of the survey, but the share of women who back Democratic candidates saying this rose, from 53% in interviews conducted Sept. 24-27 to 61% in surveys conducted afterward; there was little change in the views of men (Democratic or Republican) or Republican women over this period.

Reflecting their strongly positive views of the economy, just 8% of Republican voters say job opportunities for all Americans are a very big problem in the country today; this issue ranks relatively low for Democratic voters as well (33% very big problem). However, 67% of Democratic voters say wages and the cost of living are a very big problem for the country, compared with just 27% of Republican voters.

There are a few issues that similar shares of voters in both parties regard as major national problems. About six-in-ten (61%) Republican voters say the federal budget deficit is a very big problem, as do 56% of Democrats. In addition, there are modest differences on violent crime (49% of Republicans, 47% of Democrats) and drug addiction (67% of Republicans, 64% of Democrats).