Economy, Healthcare, Terrorism Top Domestic Priorities

Posted January 24, 2008 at 7:38pm

Heading into President Bush’s final State of the Union address on Monday, there is agreement among voters of both parties that the state of the economy is a top priority for policymakers, according to today’s release of an annual Pew Research Center report on the public’s policy concerns. But there is a partisan divide about which other issues should also be considered top priorities.

Last January, there was a 12 percentage point gap between Republicans and Democrats on characterizing the economy as a top priority. That gap has since closed as the number of Republicans and independents who view strengthening the economy as an important issue has risen over the past year to levels held by Democrats in January 2007.

Despite bipartisan agreement on the importance of the economy — a top priority for 76 percent of respondents from each party — defending against terrorism is Republicans’ most pressing concern (86 percent) and only fourth on the list for Democrats (74 percent). Republicans are also more likely than Democrats to cite illegal immigration (64 percent) and military issues (62 percent) as top priorities.

Democrats emphasize jobs, health care, education, the environment, and the poor. An overwhelming majority of Democrats (81 percent) say that reducing health care costs should be a top priority for policymakers. And, 76 percent of Democrats but fewer than half (43 percent) of Republicans say that the president and Congress should improve the job situation.

Thirty-four percent of respondents overall cite economic problems as the nation’s most grave, compared with 27 percent who identify the war in Iraq as the biggest problem. This is a reversal from last January, when 42 percent cited Iraq as the most important problem, following the president’s proposal to increase the number of troops in Iraq. Democrats are more likely to list the economy as the most important problem (39 percent) than Republicans (27 percent), but the economy does cause more concerns for Republicans than any other issue. Despite high levels of concern this month, 1992 still represents the peak of public concern about the economy.

Regarding responses about the economy, Pew adds this caveat: “Economic ratings today are somewhat more negative than they were a year ago, and down even more compared with the latter half of 2006. (However, this poll was conducted prior to the sharp decline in the international equity markets earlier this week).”

The margin of error for the total sample is ‘ 3 percentage points. The margin of error for polling of one party is ‘ 4 percentage points.