No one ever accused Americans of thinking consistently about the nation’s array of problems. Problems come and go in the American mind, often according to what media is currently focused on for a week or three. And then we all move on to the next perceived challenge.
But one thing regularly pops up near or at the top of the problem list, regardless of what’s in the news.
This summer, once more, it’s government. Or Government.
A little more than one-in-five Americans (21 percent) view government and its leadership as the country’s top problem.
Immigration was listed as the top problem last month at 22 percent during the furor over separating families of illegal aliens. That concern has dropped to 16 percent in this month’s Gallup survey.
The drop occurred more among Republicans (from 35 to 22 percent) than among Democrats (18 down to 10 percent).
Economic concerns have slipped way down the list in the last 18 months or so. This is bad news for Republicans who hope to at least weaken Democrats’ success on Nov. 6 by touting the booming economy, job growth and low unemployment. It is now at 3.9 percent. The lowest in a half-century was 3.7 percent in 1969.
During the Obama administration, jobs and the economy were No. 1 concerns. Now, unemployment, jobs and the economy in general have fallen near the bottom, cited as the worst problem by only four and five percent, respectively.
Government and immigration have consistently been the most-cited problems this year. Government has been at or above 19 percent every month.
Only in March did another problem surge as high as 13 percent. That was gun control in the weeks following the deadly Parkland school shootings.
The election of Donald Trump as president has also played a role in the listing of government as top national problem.
In every month since he took office, at least 19 percent have listed government as the No. 1 problem. This has been largely fueled by Democrats. This month 32 percent of them listed government as the most important problem compared to 12 percent among Republicans.
For comparison, the monthly average listing government as the most serious problem during Obama’s first term was 11 percent. During George W. Bush’s second term it was eight percent and during his first term (which encompassed 9/11) just five percent.
With midterm elections looming in just 11 weeks, perceptions of problems figure large in the minds of voters. Midterm elections historically have been referenda on the sitting president’s party, which has lost House seats in 18 of the last 20 midterms, on average 33.
Midterm electorates are usually about a third smaller than a general election, but many of those voters have a gripe. Typically, that’s against the party in the White House, although no president’s name is on any ballot.