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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

To Do List: Priorities From the Public

Congress is back from its August recess and has a long to-do list. This to-do list includes a variety of notable issues, including climate change, student loan overhaul, the Guantanamo Bay prison, and energy.

All of these are presumably important on some absolute scale and certainly to specific constituencies. But they are less important on the list of priorities to the average American, at this point, than other more pressing issues.

My colleague Jeff Jones has just run down our latest September "Most Important Problem" data -- the results of our monthly question where we ask Americans to name the most important problem facing the nation at this time.

The results run the gamut, including the very small 1% of Americans who mention each of the following as the nation’s top problem: lack of respect for each other, the judicial system, poverty and hunger, terrorism, the environment, race relations, lack of military defense, Middle Eastern conflict, foreign aid, abortion, Social Security, the energy problem, and gay rights.

As you can see, two of these issues are ones that the Congress may well attempt to address this fall: climate change and the energy situation.

But neither of these percolate to the top of the list when Americans are asked to prioritize in response to the MIP question. And issues like student loan overhaul and Guantanamo Bay don’t make it onto the list at all.

So, what is it Americans want their representatives to focus on? Translating the results of our question into direction to elected representatives, it’s the following, in order of importance:

1) Fix the economy
2) Do something about healthcare
3) Fix the jobs situation
4) Fix yourself (i.e., Congress and the poor way you govern)
5) Do something about the ballooning federal deficit

That's not to say that the other issues like energy and climate change are unimportant. Indeed, some people argue that these issues are of paramount importance in the long-run, whether or not the public realizes it.

OK. But in the short-term, Americans are quite directly giving their representatives some marching orders.

The good news is that Congress has actually been pretty much on task for much of this year. There have been dramatic efforts to address the economic situation and there's the current, intense focus on how to pass new healthcare laws. (There hasn't been a lot done about the way Congress functions, however.) The not-so-good news is that these issues continue to rank at the top of our list of problems facing the country today.

Re the economy, Congress could presumably decide that it has done all it can, and that from this point on it's the "tincture of time" that will have to do the job. Since the economy is still at the top of the list of problems facing the country (albeit at a lower level than in previous months), it's clear that Americans are still not convinced that what's been done so far is working. (Americans are worried in particular about jobs.)


Paul Marsolek said...
November 30, 2009 at 4:49 PM  

This might be a good time to update this posting with how well the public believe progress have been made on the five items listed:
1) Fix the economy, working or not working?
2) Do something about healthcare, has what has been done meet the public expectations?
3) Fix the jobs situation, are we doing the right things, or anything?
4) Fix yourself (i.e., Congress and the poor way you govern) I'm afraid to even mention progress here.
5) Do something about the ballooning federal deficit; This is interesting too - if in the poll American's were told how much debt has accumulated since October would they say progress has been made?

I would love to see an update on this posting with current data.

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