Under the Syrian crisis and the U.S. military intervention looms, 8% of Americans believe Syria is the most important case facing the U.S., and of course the economy in general remains the No. 1 U.S. problem according to Americans, followed by jobs and unemployment, dissatisfaction with government, and healthcare.
These results come from a Sept. 5-8, 2013, poll, conducted before President Barack Obama’s nationally televised address Tuesday regarding the potential for U.S. action in Syria. However, the poll was conducted after the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government raised the probability of a U.S. military response to the once-distant conflict.
Economic Concerns Lowest of Obama Presidency
Less than a majority of Americans name some sort of economic problem as the most important problem in the U.S., for the first time since February 2008. The percentage naming an economic issue – including the economy in general, unemployment, and the deficit – peaked at 86% in February 2009, just after Obama took office. After declining for much of that year, to as low as 51% in October, economic mentions gradually rose to 76% in the fall of 2011, shortly after the debt ceiling controversy ended and amid high unemployment. But since that time, Americans’ concern about economic matters has lessened considerably.
By comparison, a higher 65% of Americans mention some non-economic issue in response to the “most important problem” question, including dissatisfaction with government, the Syrian crisis, and healthcare. The percentage naming a non-economic issue has exceeded the percentage mentioning an economic issue in each of the last five months. This contrasts with July 2010 through March 2013, when Americans were more likely to mention economic concerns than non-economic ones.
While the actions the U.S. will take, if any, in response to allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria remain unclear, Americans are starting to pay attention. Seventy-one percent last week told Gallup they were following the news about Syria closely, and it now ranks as one of the top five problems facing the country, although still lagging behind concerns about the economy, government, and healthcare. Whether the sudden spike in concern over this issue is due more to the Syrian government’s supposed use of chemical weapons or the possibility of a military response by the U.S. government is not certain.
Meanwhile, worry over the economy appears to be receding. The 48% who name an economic issue as most important problem is down from 63% in the first month of this year. And, as Congress reconvenes to debate issues related to the nation’s debt and deficit, anxiety related to these issues has fallen dramatically — though this could change if a legislative stalemate again raises the threat of governmental shutdown or a national debt default.