Story Highlights

  • 14% say the economy in general is the greatest problem
  • 11% name both unemployment and dissatisfaction with government
  • Americans give GOP slight edge to handle the most important problem

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With the first presidential debate approaching, no one issue clearly dominates Americans' minds when they are asked to name the most important problem facing the U.S. The economy (14%) continues to lead the list, followed closely by dissatisfaction with government (11%) and jobs and unemployment (11%) as the top problem cited. Other top concerns for the U.S. include the election itself (8%), race relations (7%), immigration (6%), terrorism (5%), national security (5%) and national morals and ethics (5%).

Most Important Problem -- Recent Trend
What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? [OPEN-ENDED]
July 2016 August 2016 September 2016
% % %
Economy 12 17 14
Dissatisfaction with government 16 13 11
Unemployment/Jobs 7 8 11
Elections/Election reform 5 7 8
Race relations/Racism 18 7 7
Immigration 6 8 6
Terrorism 5 9 5
National security 6 7 5
Ethics/Morals 6 3 5
Shown are problems listed by at least 5% of Americans in September 2016

These issues, as recorded in a Sept. 7-11 Gallup poll, will likely be among the most pressing issues atop Americans' minds as they watch Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debate for the first time later this month.

Mentions of dissatisfaction with government are down slightly since August and are at their lowest point since October 2012. At the same time, the percentage of Americans who name elections or election reform as the greatest U.S. problem has been rising while the presidential campaign dominates political news coverage. In recent election years, a smaller percentage of Americans, typically 1% to 2%, have mentioned the election as the top problem for the U.S. But the issue has gained prominence over the past year, likely because of the controversies surrounding the two (highly unpopular) major-party nominees.

Republicans Retain Lead on Party Better to Handle Top Problem

Potentially helpful for the Republicans, including Trump, is the slight edge Republicans have over the Democrats in Americans' view of which party can better handle the issue they named as the top problem. While similar to the results in 2014 and 2015, it is a markedly better positioning for the GOP than in recent presidential election years, when the Democrats enjoyed a strong edge on this question.


Bottom Line

As Americans tune in for the first presidential debate of 2016, the economy, dissatisfaction with government and unemployment are the issues they see as most pressing for the country.

While Americans have slightly greater faith in the GOP to handle the issue they deem most important, the Democratic Party is within striking distance on the question, underscoring the tight race this election. This is also the case for the specific issues of the economy and foreign affairs, for which Republicans' edge is smaller than it has been in the past.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 7-11, 2016, with a random sample of 1,020 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.