Today’s Concerns for the American Public

As the presidential campaign season heats up in the United States, candidates, pollsters, and others in public administration are working hard to determine which issues Americans are most concerned about. While data can change quickly in response to current events, overall trends point to a renewed focus on domestic issues, even as concerns over global issues become localized.

Focus on the Economy

Strengthening the Job Market

Employment continues to stand out as a major area of concern. Pew found that ”When it comes to job opportunities, 57% say that jobs are difficult to find in their community, while 36% say that there are plenty of jobs available.” Those numbers are better than at any time since 2007, but they vary greatly depending on factors like education, income and geographical availability.

Rebuilding the Economy

Rebuilding the Economy
Image via Flickr by Scott Beale

While 2015 marks the first year since 2007 that economic concerns are not at the top of the list, they’re still very much on the public’s mind, especially with the ongoing volatility in both domestic and global markets. Americans cite the budget deficit, Social Security, and income inequality among their chief economic worries. Still, economic concerns overall are down 11 percent from 2013, and 31 percent of Americans believe the economy will be better a year from now; in 2013 that number was just 17 percent.

Focusing on Social Issues

Security

In January 2015, Pew Research Center reported that “For the first time in five years, as many Americans cite defending the U.S. against terrorism (76%) as a top policy priority as say that about strengthening the nation’s economy (75%).” As the economy continues to recover from the financial crisis that came to a head in 2008, the public’s attention is increasingly turning toward security. Americans worry about the growing threat of ISIS in the Middle East, as well as less conventional threats like cyber attacks on private companies and the government itself.

Immigration

In January 2014, 40 percent of Americans viewed immigration as a top non-economic policy priority. That number climbed to 52 percent by January 2015, and the nascent 2016 presidential primary season is pushing it even further into the spotlight. The public remains polarized by President Obama’s November 2014 executive action to protect millions of what the US Census calls “unauthorized migrants” from deportation. With controversial Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump making immigration one cornerstone of his bid for the top office, the issue is likely to stay at the front of the public’s mind for the foreseeable future.

Diversity

In the months and years following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, issues of the relationship between blacks and whites in the US have come into the spotlight and have expanded the issues of racial diversity. Gallup finds that 13 percent of Americans view racism as the most important problem in the U.S. That’s the highest that figure has been since 1992 in the wake of the Rodney King trial and the L.A. riots. Before that, the issue had not been a major public concern since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Non-white Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to view racism as a top concern.

While Americans have not stopped worrying about the economic recovery, research shows that financial concerns are taking a back seat to other issues for the first time in several years. Time will tell how the public’s attention will continue to shift in 2016.

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