WASHINGTON -- The economy was not the top concern for the American public last year for the first time since 2007. The pollster Gallup Inc. reported that the average of 12 monthly surveys indicated respondents believed government leadership -- meaning the Democrat in the White House, the Republicans in the U.S. Congress and general political conflict -- constituted the most important problem facing the country in 2014.
It was a close call, though. According to the aggregated results of the surveys, politics in general topped economics in general by the slimmest of margins, 18 percent versus 17 percent. Nonetheless, it represents the first time government leadership has topped Gallup’s list of concerns.
It may be the strongest sign yet that frustration with the federal government is growing. President Barack Obama’s approval numbers have been falling, and Congress has long been plagued by low approval numbers. Given this backdrop, there was low turnout in the November midterm elections, when Republicans added control of the Senate to their control of the House of Representatives. Disputes between GOP congressional members and Obama exploded after the elections as the president moved to legalize 5 million undocumented immigrants, with the associated tensions bleeding into disputes over keeping the government funded at the end of the year.
“Without a dominant issue such as the economy, the Iraq War or terrorism crowding out other issues as they have in years past, this is also only the third time since 2001 when three issues garnered at least 15 [percent] in average mentions,” Gallup reported.
It could be a sign Americans are beginning to acknowledge that the economy is improving, as suggested by the Wall Street Journal. Despite steady increases in jobs and economic output, polls have continued to find the public isn’t confident in economic growth. According to Gallup, 15 percent of respondents believed unemployment was the most important problem facing the nation last year.
Gallup found responses in some categories changed greatly over the course of the year. For example, unemployment was cited as the top issue by 23 percent in February, but by only 8 percent later in the year. It was a trend that could be explained by the falling unemployment rate, which finished 2014 at a six-year low of 5.8 percent.
Gallup also saw race relations surge as a national concern. At the beginning of the year, only 1 percent cited it as the biggest problem facing the country. But by December, 13 percent pointing to it. The nation has been having a renewed conversation about the state of race relations after two different grand juries chose to avoid indicting white police officers over their roles in the deaths of the black Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York. The moves prompted protests that have continued in the new year, as reported by the Staten Island Advance.