by Frank Newport
Republicans, Democrats agree on government, economy as top problems
Although both Republicans and Democrats name dysfunctional government, the economy, and unemployment as top problems facing the country today, they attach different importance to other issues. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are significantly more likely than Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to say that immigration and moral decline are top problems in the U.S., while Democrats are more likely to mention poverty and education.
The differences between partisan groups are most evident in terms of immigration, with an 11-percentage-point spread between Republicans (22%) and Democrats (11%) mentioning the issue. Two issues show a six-point gap in mentions between party groups, with Democrats more likely to mention poverty/hunger/homelessness and Republicans more likely to mention ethical decline.
These data are from an aggregated sample of 2,001 national adults interviewed in Gallup’s July and August Gallup Poll Social Series surveys. In those two months, immigration ranked near the top of the list after the wave of Central Americans illegally entering the country became a major national news story. Prior to July, immigration ranked much lower on the most important problem list.
Dissatisfaction With Government Based on Different Viewpoints
Dissatisfaction with government was Americans’ top-mentioned problem in July and August, exceeding all other issues in public perceptions of the most important problem facing the country, although just slightly above mentions of immigration. Dissatisfaction with government appears to be germane to both Republicans and Democrats, ranking as the top issue for Democrats and second for Republicans, behind immigration.
But a closer look at the data shows that Republicans and Democrats view this problem from different perspectives. Republicans are more likely to talk about problems with overall leadership of the country, which translates in many instances into criticisms of President Barack Obama, while Democrats are more likely to talk about problems with Congress and the lack of bipartisan cooperation, which often translates into criticism of the Republican-controlled House.
Americans who mention criticisms of dysfunctional government focusing on presidential leadership give such comments as:
“a president who doesn’t know how to sit down with Congress and negotiate”
“no one is leading this country”
“country is in a downward spiral due to our president”
“the way the president is running our country”
“Obama thinking he can circumvent everybody”
Americans who mention criticisms of dysfunctional government but with a focus on Congress offer such comments as:
“obstructionism of Congress, especially in the House of Representatives”
“Congress, they’re not getting anything done”
“dysfunctional Republican House of Representatives”
“the fact that the Republicans will not do the job they are elected for”
“most important thing facing the country today is the do-nothing Congress”
Thus, the American public’s views regarding dysfunctional government tend to illustrate the issue, with the two political groups likely to present opposing views on which aspect of government is at the root of this problem.
Republicans and Democrats, despite being politically opposed to each other, share some common concerns when asked to name the most important problem facing the country. Both groups’ top five categories of responses include the economy and unemployment, as well as concerns about healthcare and dysfunctional government.
But differences are apparent as well, both among categories such as immigration, moral and ethical decline, and poverty, and within the category dealing with dysfunctional government. Democrats tend to place the blame for dysfunctional government on Congress, specifically on the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, while Republicans tend to place the blame on the president and lack of leadership. These differences in priorities among rank-and-file partisans could be a factor in determining their reactions to candidates in the midterm elections this November, and also may be a significant factor in determining the priorities adopted by Republican and Democratic members of Congress.
For results based on the total sample of 945 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of 854 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup’s polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.