The recent battle over gun control legislation claimed the attention of citizens and politicians alike for months following the shootings at Newtown, Conn., but the latest Gallup priority poll shows that Americans think jobs, not guns, should be the government's highest priority. In fact, guns don't even make the top 10 of the priorities polled.
The twelve priority issues polled by Gallup, in random order, included creating more jobs, helping the economy grow, making government work more efficiently, improving the quality of education received by American schoolchildren, addressing the financial problems with Social Security and Medicare, reducing the cost of health care, reducing the federal deficit, improving access to health care, reducing poverty and inequality, reforming the tax code, reducing gun violence and reforming immigration.
While Republicans and Democrats agreed on the importance of some of these issues, other issues like access to health care, immigration and reducing gun violence showed splits along party lines.
Here's a look at the top 12 issues that matter most to Americans and where the country currently stands on each of them.
According to the Gallup priority poll released Wednesday, 86 percent of Americans told Gallup that creating more jobs should be the highest priority for leaders in Washington, with the issue eclipsing the importance of 11 others polled.
Americans have long considered jobs a priority for government, with a Nov. 15, 2012 Gallup poll released just days after the presidential election showing that 95 percent of Americans believed it was extremely/very important that President Obama take major steps to restore a strong economy and job market.
A breakdown of the new data shows that 90 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of Independents and 84 percent of Republicans rank creating jobs as the No. 1 issue. Eight-six percent of poll respondents marked it as a top/high priority, with 9 percent saying medium, 3 percent saying low and 1 percent saying the issue is "not a priority."
The Gallup poll cautioned that "creating jobs" and "helping the economy grow" are broad and diffuse goals that don't easily translate into legislation, and that both parties disagree on the approach that should be taken to achieve them.
"These disagreements no doubt have kept the Congress and the president from moving forward on these issues — but to the degree that these elected representatives feel it is their duty to follow the wishes of those they represent, they would renew their focus on efforts to come to consensus on reaching these goals," Gallup's analysis said.
The poll option of "helping the economy grow" tied percentage-wise with creating more jobs, with 86 percent of Americans listing it as a top/high priority.
Gallup's data shows that 88 percent of Democrats, 86 percent of Independents and 84 percent of Republicans listed this issue as a top/high priority, with only 10 percent of Americans listing it as a medium priority, 3 percent as a low priority and 1 percent as "not a priority."
The latest job data shows the national unemployment rate at a four-year low of 7.5 percent. The U6 unemployment rate, which counts people without work seeking full-time employment, as well as "marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons," reportedly stands at 13.9 percent.
The president launched a series of quick trips related to jobs today, with plans to start the tour in Austin, Texas.
Obama will visit growing areas "to learn what has helped them become successful and use these models of growth to encourage Congress to act," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told USA Today.
Eighty-one percent of Americans listed "making government work more efficiently" as a big priority for leaders in Washington, with the question drawing close, high numbers across the board as 80 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Independents and 84 percent of Republicans ranked it as a top/high priority.
Gallup's data breakdown shows that 81 percent of Americans listed this issue as a top/high priority, 15 percent as a medium priority, 2 percent as a low priority and 1 percent as "not a priority."
An April 2013 Associated Press-GfK poll found that 56 percent of people felt the country was headed in the wrong direction, 57 percent disapproved of the way Democrats in Congress were handling their jobs, 67 percent disapproved of the way Republicans in Congress were handling their jobs and 67 percent believed that government in Washington could be trusted to do what is right "only some of the time." A mere 7 percent said Congress could be trusted "just about always."
A Heritage Foundation study released May 1, 2013, said that the regulatory burden on Americans grew by almost $70 billion during the president's first term. In 2012 alone, regulatory costs equaled $23.5 billion, the report said.
The Red Tape Tower, or the stack of regulations from the health care overhaul — which stands more than seven feet tall — has become a talking point and frequent photobomber on Capitol Hill, even spawning its own Twitter account.
Improving the quality of education received by American schoolchildren ranked as the fourth most important issue on the latest Gallup survey, with 81 percent of respondents saying it should be a top/high priority for government leaders.
In December 2012, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement released data from its 2011 administration of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, prompting Education Secretary Arne Duncan to issue a statement emphasizing the "urgency of accelerating achievement in secondary school and the need to close large and persistent achievement gaps."
Learning gains made in fourth grade are not being carried over into eighth grade, Duncan said, and that needs to be addressed.
"This is unacceptable if our schools are to live up to the American promise of giving all children a world-class education," he said. "Given the vital role that science, technology, engineering and math play in stimulating innovation ad economic growth, it is particularly troubling that eighth-grade science achievement is stagnant and that students in Singapore and Korea are far more likely to perform at advanced levels in science than U.S. students."
The president plans to talk about education during his jobs tour, which began today, and will visit Manor New Tech High School, which deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest said teaches students "real-world skills they need to fill the jobs that are available right now," The Washington Post reported.
According to a November 2012 column at finance.yahoo.com, the Social Security Board of Trustees estimated that all the money in the Social Security "bank account" will be depleted by 2033, while other reports suggest the Social Security disability program will run out of money in 2016 and Medicare funding will run short by 2024.
Americans rank addressing the financial problems with Social Security and Medicare as the fifth most pressing issue, with 77 percent saying it should be a top/high priority for leaders in Washington. Within that 77 percent, 74 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of Independents and 77 percent of Republicans list it as a high priority item.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney sparred over Medicare and Social Security. Since then, Obama discussed Medicare and Social Security in his State of the Union Address, and included cuts to Medicare in his budget.
Although Republicans and Democrats were split over reducing the costs of health care as a national priority, 59 percent to 78 percent, ultimately it came in as the sixth highest priority for Americans, with 70 percent saying it should be a top/high priority for Washington to focus on.
Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released data showing the prices of all hospitals across the U.S. for the 100 most common inpatient treatments services in 2011, Time reported.
That data, according to Time, allows Americans to compare what hospitals charge them with what procedures actually cost. It also shows differences based on location and hospital, with things like appendix removals ranging between $2,000 and $180,000.
Although this transparency may be a good thing, The Atlantic warned that releasing the data could also increase health care prices. Consumers may choose more expensive services thinking they are higher quality, Peter Ubel wrote, and patients may have little motivation to shop around for cheaper services because insurance companies pay the majority of the costs.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, health spending per capita in Utah ran at about $5,031 in 2009. Factcheck.org reported in March that the "average annual premium for employer-sponsored coverage for a family of four reached $15,745 in 2012," with workers contributing an average of $4,316 toward their coverage and employers covering the rest.
According to the Gallup poll, 69 percent of Americans ranked "reducing the federal deficit" as an issue that should be a top/high priority for leaders in Washington. Republicans considered the issue most important, with 84 percent ranking it high, while 61 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Independents felt the same way.
As of Wednesday night, usdebtclock.org showed the US national debt — or the amount of money owed by the federal government to creditors holding things like treasury bills and savings bonds — standing at more than $16,800,000,000,000.
The budget deficit of the federal government, which is different than the national debt, is showing positive signs, with the Potomac Research Group suggesting Wednesday that a combination of increased revenues, economic growth and sequestration spending cuts could lead the country to a surplus by 2015.
"Moving forward, it is important for the U.S. Congress to take yes for an answer to the question of whether it has already achieved substantial deficit reduction," the American Enterprise Institute's John Makin wrote in a recent report. "Perhaps by accident, Congress has in fact reduced the U.S. budget deficit by enough to enable working at long-term fiscal reform, including the aforementioned reform of the tax and entitlement systems over the next year."
Although only 47 percent of Republicans see "improving access to health care" as a top/high priority for leaders in Washington, stronger support from Democrats and Independents — 83 percent and 70 percent respectively — bumped this up, with 68 percent of people polled by Gallup suggesting it should be a top/high priority.
According to the government's health care website, 2014 will signal the year that "all Americans will have access to affordable health insurance options" as President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, signed into law in 2009, kicks in.
"The (health care) Marketplace will allow individuals and small businesses to compare health plans on a level playing field," healthcare.gov said. "Middle and low-income families will get tax credits that cover a significant portion of the cost of coverage. And the Medicaid program will be expanded to cover more low-income Americans. All together, these reforms mean that millions of people who were previously uninsured will gain coverage, thanks to the Affordable Care Act."
One challenge the administration may face in reaching their health care goals is that, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, 42 percent of Americans are unaware that "Obamacare" is law. Twelve percent believed the law had been repealed by Congress, 7 percent believe it had been overturned by the Supreme Court and 23 percent said they didn't "know enough to say what the status of the law is."
On April 26, ThinkProgress reported on a study suggesting that the health care overhaul helped 3.4 million young Americans gain access to health insurance, largely because they are able to stay on their parents' health plans until the age of 26.
Although one of the main goals of the Affordable Care Act was to help every American get health insurance, the Congressional Budget Office reported in July 2012 that the legislation will leave 30 million people uninsured.
A recent New England Journal of Medicine study focusing on Medicaid and health outcomes found that although the individuals with Medicaid coverage utilized the health care system more, they "fared no better than a control group of uninsured, low-income" people in tests for hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes treatment.
While access to Medicaid did not improve physical health, Medicaid recipients reported lower rates of depression and said they were less likely to be on shaky financial footing, Slate's Ray Fisman wrote.
In another issue that shows the split between parties, 75 percent of Democrats ranked "reducing poverty and inequality" as a top/high priority for government leaders in Washington, while only 52 percent of Republicans felt the same way. Independents fell somewhat in the middle at 66 percent.
A breakdown of the data shows that 65 percent of poll respondents ranked poverty and inequality as a top/high priority, while 21 percent called it a medium priority, 10 percent a low priority and 3 percent "not a priority."
During his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama pushed for an increase in the minimum wage, suggesting that it should be raised to $9 an hour.
"This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families," the president said. "It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank, rent or eviction, scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn't have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher."
Throughout the presidential campaign, the president talked about raising taxes on the wealthy — asking them to "pay their fair share" — and according to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, the president got his tax increase with the $650 billion in new taxes from the fiscal cliff deal in January.
Although Obama talks about closing the income gap, Financial Times writer Edward Luce said in March that reality isn't matching the rhetoric.
"According to data from Sentier Research, U.S. median household income dropped by 1.1 percent from January to February, to $51,404," Luce wrote. "It is now 5.6 percent below where it was in June 2009, when the recovery began ($54,437). And it is 8.9 percent below where it was at the start of the century. At this rate — and for all Mr. Obama's efforts — the middle class could suffer a double-digit fall during his presidency.
"It is a different story at the top. According to David Cay Johnston of Syracuse University, the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans have taken 149 percent of the growth since 2009 (the bottom 90 percent have seen their incomes shrink). The top 1 percent — those earning $366,623 or more — have taken 81 percent of the fruits of the recovery. And the top one in 10,000 — those starting at $7.9 million a year — hogged an astonishing 39 percent of the growth. That means America's top 15,837 households have gained almost as much as the remaining 158.4 million. This is not the kind of record Mr. Obama wants."
Just weeks after Americans filed their taxes and celebrated "Tax Freedom Day," Gallup's poll found that 59 percent of Americans thought that "reforming the tax code" should be a top/high priority for government leaders.
The data breakdown shows that 57 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of Independents and 64 percent of Republicans saw this as a top issue. Fifty-nine percent of Americans considered it a top/high priority, while 30 percent saw it as a medium priority.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican Mitt Romney pushed for tax reform, saying that he believed the tax code should be simpler and fairer. He proposed an across-the-board, 20 percent reduction in marginal individual income tax rates and other reforms, as outlined in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
With the election now in the past, the president has also proposed changes to the tax code in his budget, focusing on tax breaks and closing loopholes.
"If we're serious about deficit reduction, then these reforms have to go hand-in-hand with reforming our tax code to make it more simple and more fair so that the wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations cannot keep taking advantage of loopholes and deductions that most Americans don't get," Obama said in April.
A Politico story published Wednesday said that Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, wouldn't rule out some GOP support for tax reforms that raised revenue, as long as they were tied to entitlement reform.
Although gun control has dominated the airwaves and Washington for the past few months, Americans rank it as second-to-last in their priority list, Gallup reported Wednesday, with only 55 percent of poll respondents saying reducing gun violence should be a top/high priority for Washington.
Republicans and Democrats differed sharply on the issue, with 73 percent of Democrats and 40 percent Republicans ranking it as a top priority. Fifty percent of Independents shared that opinion.
On April 17, Senate Republicans and some Senate Democrats scuttled gun control legislation that would install tighter background checks for buyers and a ban on "assault weapons." Other failed measures also included a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The president expressed his feelings toward the failure of gun control legislation, saying, "All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. But this effort is not over. I want to make it clear to the American people: we can still bring about meaningful changes that reduce gun violence so long as the American people don't give up on it."
While gun violence has been widely debated, new information suggests it has also been dropping significantly since 1993 — and that few Americans are aware of it.
New data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that firearm-related homicides dropped 39 percent and nonfatal firearm crimes dropped 69 percent from 1993 to 2011. In 1993, firearm-related homicides stood at 18,253, but by 2011 it dropped to 11,101 in 2011. Nonfatal firearm crimes dropped from 1.5 million victimizations in 1993 to 467,300 in 2011.
A new Pew analysis said the gun homicide rate is down 49 percent from its 1993 peak, and goes on to say that 56 percent of Americans today believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago. Only 12 percent rightly think it is lower.
With gun control fading in the background of Washington, attention is turning more fully to immigration as the Senate Judiciary Committee kicks off debate today on the nearly 900-page immigration bill.
Like gun control, however, few Americans believe this is where Washington leaders should be focusing their attention According to Gallup, 44 percent of Democrats, 53 percent of Independents and 55 percent of Republicans rank "reforming immigration" as a top/high priority. Immigration reform holds the last spot in Gallup's priority poll, with a total of 50 percent of Americans ranking it as the issue to focus on.
The Senate bill, according to Reuters, "aims to further increase U.S. border security, establish new visa systems for foreign workers and provide a 'pathway to citizenship' for the 11 million people who are living in the United States illegally."
According to a report from The Heritage Foundation released Monday, the new bill would cost $6.3 trillion. That total comes from $9 trillion in government benefits Heritage says would go to legalized immigrants during their lifetimes offset, by $3 trillion in taxes, The Associated Press reported.