Terrorism, Economy and Immigration Top Issues Americans Want Government to Address

Fewer than three in ten Americans feel things in the country are going in the right direction

03:00 PM EST Dec 23, 2015 Rating
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Terrorism, Economy and Immigration Top Issues Americans Want Government to Address

NEW YORK, N.Y. – With multiple recent terrorist incidents in the news, and the issues they raise driving heated discussion in the latest Presidential debates, it may come as little surprise to hear that terrorism currently leads the list of issues Americans want to see government action on: 24% of U.S. adults name it – without prompting – among the top issues for the government to address. This represents fourfold growth since November of last year (when 6% named it as a top issue) and is on par with December 2001, when 22% of Americans named this issue in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,252 U.S. adults surveyed online between December 9 and 14, 2015.

Terrorism is far from the only issue on Americans’ minds, though. The economy is behind it by only the narrowest of margins, with 23% naming it (down marginally from 25% a year ago). Meanwhile, 19% point to immigration, including mentions related to refugees; though this has been a frequent topic throughout the ongoing Presidential election cycle, immigration mentions are actually down a bit from 24% last November.

Further down the list, Americans are only half as likely as they were last year to point to Healthcare (13%, down from 26%) and employment/jobs (10%, down from 20%) as top issues to address. National security mentions, on the other hand, have increased threefold in that time (from 3% in November 2014 to 9% today).

Further down the list, 7% of Americans mention ISIS/ISIL, 6% each point to education and the environment while 5% each cite gun laws/gun control, the income or wealth gap, the national budget/government spending, and the budget deficit/national debt.

Preferential priorities 

There are some differences in what tops the list depending on who is responding:

Direction of the country 

Fewer than three in ten Americans (29%) believe things in the country are going in the right direction, down from the low-to-mid 30%s seen over the past several months. It’s on par with last December though (when it was 30%), as well as being exponentially stronger than the 5% of Americans expressing this sentiment at this point in the last Presidential race (a time when much of our nation’s ills are brought front and center on the debate stage).

Presidential and Congressional ratings

A country’s course is set, at least in part, by its leaders – so if the country is seen as going off course, what say Americans of those at the wheel? Thirty-seven percent (37%) give President Obama positive ratings on his overall job performance, while 63% rate him negatively. Similarly, 36% rate him positively for his performance in relation to the economy, while 64% rate him negatively. In both cases this marks something of a drop from recent months (both positive marks have been hovering around the four in ten mark), but an improvement from a year ago (when 33% rated him positively overall and 34% did so for his performance on the economy).

Twelve percent (12%) of Americans have positive attitudes toward the overall job Congress is doing while 88% rate them negatively; this is on par with positive ratings from recent months (10% in November, 12% in October) but up considerably from last December (when only 7% saw Congress in a positive light).

 


TABLE 1a

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S JOB RATING - TREND

"How would you rate the overall job President Barack Obama is doing?"

                Base: All adults

 

TREND

Positive*

Negative**

%

%

2015

December

37

63

 

November

41

59

October

41

59

September

41

59

August

40

60

July

39

61

June

38

62

May

41

59

April

38

62

March

37

63

February

38

62

Jan (post-SOTU)

42

58

Jan (pre-SOTU)

39

61

2014

December

33

67

 

November

35

65

October

34

66

September

30

70

August

32

68

July

34

66

June

38

62

May

38

62

April

33

67

March

35

65

February

35

65

January

32

68

2013

December

34

66

 

November

32

68

October

35

65

September

34

66

July

39

61

June

41

59

March

38

62

2012

December

45

55

 

September

41

59

April

41

59

March

40

60

January

36

64

2011

December

36

64

 

November

34

66

October

33

67

September

32

68

July

38

62

May

46

54

April

38

62

March

39

61

Feb.

42

58

Jan.

44

56

2010

Dec.

36

64

 

Nov.

38

62

Oct.

37

63

Sept.

38

62

Aug.

40

60

June

39

61

May

42

58

March

41

59

Jan.

40

60

2009

Dec.

41

59

 

Nov.

43

57

Oct.

45

55

Sept.

49

51

Aug.

51

49

June

54

46

May

59

41

April

58

42

March

55

45

*Positive = excellent or pretty good.  **Negative = only fair or poor.

 

 

TABLE 1b

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S JOB RATING

By Political Party, Registered Voters & Generation

"How would you rate the overall job President Barack Obama is doing?"

Base: All adults

 

Total

Political Party

Registered Voters

Generation

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Millennials (18-35)

Gen X (36-50)

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures (70+)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

POSITIVE

37

11

68

28

11

69

28

42

34

36

27

    Excellent

10

3

20

5

3

21

6

12

11

8

4

    Pretty good

27

8

48

23

8

47

22

30

23

28

23

NEGATIVE

63

89

32

72

89

31

72

58

66

64

73

    Only fair

24

16

23

30

15

22

29

31

23

19

19

    Poor

39

72

10

42

74

9

44

26

43

45

54

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

* indicates fewer than <0.5% selected this response

 

 


TABLE 2a

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S JOB RATING ON THE ECONOMY - TREND

"Now, turning to something different, how would you rate the overall job that President Barack Obama is doing on the economy?”

Base: All adults

 

2009

2010

March

April

May

June

Aug

Sept

Nov

Dec

Jan

Mar

Apr

May

June

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

POSITIVE (NET)

47

49

46

43

39

40

34

36

31

32

33

36

32

32

29

27

31

30

      Excellent

13

13

10

3

9

7

6

6

5

5

6

6

5

6

5

5

5

5

      Pretty good

34

36

36

34

31

33

27

30

25

27

27

30

27

26

24

22

26

25

NEGATIVE (NET)

53

51

54

57

61

60

66

64

69

68

67

64

68

68

71

73

69

70

      Only fair

30

27

30

27

25

27

30

30

31

30

31

29

32

29

31

33

30

34

      Poor

23

24

24

30

36

33

37

34

39

37

36

34

37

39

40

39

39

36

 

 

2011

2012

2013

Jan

Feb*

Mar

May

June

July

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Feb

Mar

Apr

June

July

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

POSITIVE (NET)

33

33

33

32

27

26

21

23

22

25

25

32

32

36

33

39

35

33

29

30

30

29

  Excellent

7

9

5

7

5

3

2

3

3

4

2

3

5

4

6

6

5

5

4

5

6

4

  Pretty good

26

24

28

26

22

23

18

20

20

22

22

29

27

32

27

32

31

28

28

25

24

25

NEGATIVE (NET)

67

62

67

68

73

74

79

77

78

75

75

68

68

64

67

61

65

67

71

70

70

71

   Only fair

30

22

29

28

30

33

33

36

32

34

34

30

29

26

26

26

29

29

31

28

29

30

   Poor

37

39

38

40

43

41

46

41

46

41

41

38

39

38

41

35

36

38

40

42

41

41

 

 

2014

2015

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

Jan (pre-SOTU)

Jan (Post-SOTU)

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

POSITIVE (NET)

28

31

31

32

35

32

30

30

29

33

35

34

39

42

40

38

38

39

36

38

40

39

41

40

36

      Excellent

5

4

5

5

5

7

7

6

6

5

8

9

10

10

9

10

10

10

8

6

8

11

12

12

10

      Pretty good

23

27

26

27

29

25

23

25

24

27

26

25

29

32

31

28

27

29

28

31

32

29

29

28

26

NEGATIVE (NET)

72

69

69

68

65

68

70

70

71

67

65

66

61

58

60

62

62

61

64

62

60

61

59

60

64

      Only fair

30

29

27

29

26

28

27

31

31

29

29

30

26

27

28

28

28

25

28

27

24

25

26

24

27

      Poor

42

40

42

39

39

40

43

39

40

38

36

36

34

31

32

34

35

35

35

36

36

35

33

36

36

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding; *In February 2012 “Not at all sure” was offered as a response choice and 4% responded in that way.

 


TABLE 2b

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S JOB RATING ON THE ECONOMY

By Political Party, Registered Voters & Generation

"How would you rate the overall job that President Barack Obama is doing on the economy?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Political Party

Registered Voters

Generation

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Millennials (18-35)

Gen X (36-50)

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures (70+)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

POSITIVE

36

12

66

30

11

68

30

43

36

33

28

    Excellent

10

3

20

7

2

22

7

13

10

9

8

    Pretty good

26

9

45

23

9

45

23

30

26

24

20

NEGATIVE

64

88

34

70

89

32

70

57

64

67

72

    Only fair

27

22

24

31

21

22

30

33

25

23

24

    Poor

36

66

11

39

67

10

40

24

39

44

48

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding 

 

TABLE 3a

CONGRESS’ OVERALL JOB RATING – Trend

"How would you rate the overall job Congress is doing?"

Base: All adults

 

TREND

Positive*

Negative**

%

%

2015

December

12

88

 

November

10

90

October

12

88

September

9

91

August

10

90

July

11

89

June

9

91

May

9

91

April

9

91

March

7

93

February

9

91

Jan (post-SOTU)

10

90

Jan (Pre-SOTU)

9

91

2014

December

7

93

 

October

8

92

September

7

93

August

8

92

July

9

91

June

10

90

May

7

93

April

7

93

March

8

92

February

8

92

January

6

94

2013

December

5

95

 

November

7

93

October

4

96

September

7

93

July

9

91

June

9

91

March

6

94

2012

December

8

92

 

April

11

89

March

9

91

January

6

94

2011

December

5

95

 

July

8

92

May

13

87

January

16

84

2010

December

11

89

 

June

14

86

March

10

90

Jan.

16

84

2009

Dec.

17

83

 

Oct.

16

84

June

25

75

March

29

71

2008

October

10

86

 

August

18

77

June

13

83

February

20

76

2007

December

17

79

 

October

20

77

April

27

69

February

33

62

2006

September

24

73

 

May

18

80

February

25

71

January

25

72

*Positive = excellent or pretty good.  **Negative = only fair or poor.

 


TABLE 3b

CONGRESS’ OVERALL JOB RATING

By Political Party, Registered Voters & Generation

"How would you rate the overall job Congress is doing?"

  Base: All adults

 

Total

Political Party

Registered Voters

Generation

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Millennials (18-35)

Gen X (36-50)

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures (70+)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

POSITIVE

12

12

16

9

12

15

7

19

13

7

3

    Excellent

3

3

4

3

2

4

4

7

3

1

--

    Pretty good

9

9

12

5

10

11

3

12

10

6

3

NEGATIVE

88

88

84

91

88

85

93

81

87

93

97

    Only fair

33

35

31

31

35

30

32

38

32

28

33

    Poor

55

53

53

60

54

55

61

43

55

65

63

  Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

* indicates fewer than <0.5% selected this response

-- indicates no selections for this response

 

 

TABLE 4a

RIGHT DIRECTION OR WRONG TRACK – TREND

"Generally speaking, would you say things in the country are going in the right direction or have they pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?"

                                Base: All adults

 

TREND

Right Direction

Wrong Track

%

%

2015

December

29

71

 

November

31

69

October

34

66

September

32

68

August

34

66

July

34

66

June

30

70

May

35

65

April

33

67

March

35

65

February

38

62

Jan (Post-SOTU)

44

56

Jan (Pre-SOTU)

38

62

2014

December

30

70

 

November

34

66

October

34

66

September

29

71

August

32

68

July

31

69

June

33

67

May

35

65

April

34

66

March

34

66

February

34

66

January

31

69

2013

December

33

67

 

November

30

70

October

20

80

September

29

71

July

34

66

May

39

61

2012

March

34

66

 

January

27

73

2011

August

16

84

 

May

39

61

2010

December

29

71

 

April

39

61

2009

August

46

54

 

January

19

72

2008

October

11

83

 

February

23

69

2007

December

18

74

 

February

29

62

2006

May

24

69

 

February

32

59

2005

November

27

68

 

January

46

48

2004

September

38

57

 

June

35

59

2003

December

35

57

 

June

44

51

2002

December

36

57

 

June

46

48

2001

December

65

32

 

June

43

52

2000

October

50

41

 

June

40

51

1999

June

37

55

 

March

47

45

1998

December

43

51

 

June

48

44

1997

December

39

56

 

April

36

55

1996

December

38

50

 

June

29

64

1995

December

26

62

 

June

24

65

1994

December

29

63

 

June

28

65

1993

June

21

70

 

March

39

50

1992

June

12

81

 

January

20

75

1991

December

17

75

 

January

58

32

  


TABLE 4b

RIGHT DIRECTION OR WRONG TRACK

By Political Party, Registered Voters, Generation & Gender

"Generally speaking, would you say things in the country are going in the right direction or have they pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?"

Base: All adults

 

Total

Political Party

Registered Voters

Generation

Gender

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Millennials (18-35)

Gen X (36-50)

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures (70+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Right direction

29

14

46

25

13

48

25

39

27

21

23

35

23

Wrong track

71

86

54

75

87

52

75

61

73

79

77

65

77

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

 

TABLE 5a 

MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE – TREND

"What do you think are the two most important issues for the government to address?"

Top Spontaneous, unprompted replies

Base: All adults

 

‘97

‘98

‘99

‘00

‘01

‘02

‘03

‘04

‘05

‘06

‘07

‘08

‘09

‘10

‘11

‘12

‘13

‘13

‘13

‘14

‘14

‘14

‘15

May

Jan

Feb

Aug

Dec

Dec

June

Oct

Aug

June

Oct

Oct

Mar

Jan

May

Mar

Mar

Sept

Dec

Mar

June

Nov

Dec

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Terrorism (non-specific)

X

X

X

X

22

17

11

7

7

4

4

3

4

6

4

1

1

1

1

1

2

6

24

The economy (non-specific)

8

9

7

5

32

34

25

28

19

14

13

64

50

32

29

30

27

26

24

25

27

25

23

Immigration (incl. Refugees)

2

1

*

1

1

1

2

2

3

20

12

3

4

5

10

5

9

8

8

9

17

24

19

Healthcare (not Medicare) including Obamacare/ACA

10

11

12

15

5

10

14

18

11

12

25

22

25

45

18

21

23

33

42

29

22

26

14

Employment/jobs

5

3

4

4

7

8

8

10

3

7

5

5

21

31

33

36

26

27

27

29

23

20

10

National security

X

X

2

2

6

3

6

5

2

2

2

5

2

4

1

1

2

1

*

1

2

3

9

ISIS/ISIL

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

3

7

Education

15

14

21

25

12

11

13

7

8

7

6

6

5

5

7

7

6

6

8

6

9

7

6

Environment

3

2

3

3

1

3

2

1

3

3

3

2

3

3

2

2

3

2

2

4

4

6

6

Gun laws/control

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

4

3

1

*

4

 

5

Income gap/Wealth distribution/Middle class

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

1

*

1

2

4

4

4

5

5

Budget/Government spending

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

5

6

2

6

7

9

7

20

10

14

9

7

5

5

Budget deficit/National debt

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

3

X

17

11

16

12

16

13

11

9

5

(Programs for) the poor/ poverty

3

2

2

3

1

2

3

*

4

4

4

*

1

2

2

1

2

4

3

3

3

4

4

Taxes

14

16

12

13

6

5

11

8

5

4

3

6

4

4

4

7

9

5

6

8

6

5

3

Homeland/domestic security/public safety

X

X

X

X

8

9

3

6

2

2

2

1

2

1

1

1

X

2

2

2

1

2

3

Social security

6

6

24

16

3

2

4

4

10

5

3

3

1

1

3

3

3

4

3

2

3

3

3

Human/civil/women's rights

2

1

*

1

1

1

*

1

1

1

2

*

*

1

1

2

1

2

1

2

2

2

2

Foreign policy (non-specific)

3

5

4

3

2

4

2

3

2

2

4

2

3

2

1

2

2

3

2

4

3

2

2

Crime/Violence

19

13

8

10

1

2

3

1

3

2

2

1

*

1

1

1

2

1

1

1

2

 

2

Race relations

X

2

*

1

1

*

*

X

*

*

1

X

X

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

2

Homelessness

4

4

3

3

2

2

1

*

1

1

3

*

*

1

*

*

*

1

*

1

1

 

2

Other

8

19

2

19

3

8

8

8

1

6

5

15

5

1

3

8

8

8

8

6

7

3

2

Not sure/refused/no issue

9

12

16

18

11

10

12

9

8

6

8

4

4

2

4

2

2

3

2

4

6

4

6

* = Less than 0.5%, X = Not mentioned as specific issue; Note: Prior to March, 2009, this question was asked via telephone

 


TABLE 5b

TOP 5 MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES – By Generation & Gender

Base: All adults

Rank

Generation

Gender

Millennials

(18-35)

Gen Xers

(36-50)

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures

(70+)

Male

Female

1st

Economy

Terrorism

Terrorism

Terrorism

Economy

Terrorism

2nd

Immigration (incl. Refugees)

Economy

Economy

Immigration (incl. Refugees)

Terrorism

Economy

3rd

Healthcare (not Medicare)

Immigration (incl. Refugees) + Healthcare (not Medicare)

Immigration (incl. Refugees)

Economy

Immigration (incl. Refugees)

Immigration (incl. Refugees)

4th

Terrorism

Employment/ Unemployment/ Jobs

Healthcare (not Medicare)

Healthcare (not Medicare) + Social Security (TIE)

National security

Healthcare (not Medicare)

5th

Education

National security

Employment/ Unemployment/ Jobs

National security

Healthcare (not Medicare)

Employment/ Unemployment/ Jobs

 

 

TABLE 5c

TOP 5 MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES – By Political Party (among registered voters) & Political Philosophy

Base: All adults

Rank

Political Party (among registered voters)

Political Philosophy

Republicans

Democrats

Independents

Conservative

Moderate

Liberal

1st

Terrorism

Economy

Economy

Terrorism

Economy

Economy

2nd

Economy

Terrorism

Terrorism

Economy

Terrorism

Terrorism

3rd

Immigration (incl. Refugees)

Healthcare (not Medicare)

Immigration (incl. Refugees)

Immigration (incl. Refugees)

Immigration (incl. Refugees)

Mealthcare (not Medicare)

4th

National security

Immigration (incl. Refugees)

Healthcare (not Medicare)

Healthcare (not Medicare)

Healthcare (not Medicare)

Environment

5th

Healthcare (not Medicare)

Employment/ Unemployment/ Jobs

National security

National Security

Employment/ Unemployment/ Jobs

Income Distribution/ Wealth disparity/ Middle class

 


Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between December 9 and 14, 2015 among 2,252 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll® #82, December 23, 2015

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. 

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