The American public has shifted its attention toward problems like terrorism and war since last summer when more people said the nation’s top problems were economic, an Associated Press poll found.
When asked in an open-ended question last July to name the most important problems facing the United States, 9 percent mentioned war. That number almost doubled to 17 percent in an AP-Ipsos Public Affairs poll taken early this month. The number of people who named terrorism has grown from 14 percent in July to 21 percent now.
The poll offers a glimpse of the nation’s leading concerns as the presidential campaign intensifies between President Bush, who generally has posted stronger poll numbers on national security, and Democrat John Kerry, seen as stronger by the public on economic issues.
The Iraq factor
Last July, U.S. troops had recently completed their initial conquest of Iraq’s armed forces and were at work rebuilding the nation. In recent weeks, U.S. troops have been under increased attacks by insurgents, both from the Sunni and Shiite populations in Iraq.
U.S. troops have killed about 700 insurgents across Iraq since the beginning of the month. About 70 coalition troops — almost all Americans — have died in clashes during that time.
In the new AP-Ipsos poll, pocketbook issues such as the economy and jobs were named by 37 percent, down from 47 percent last July. A smaller percentage of people specifically ranked “the economy” as the top problem than in July, with the number dropping steeply from 31 percent last July to 18 percent now.
For Jean Hart, a 52-year-old telecommunications worker from Albany, N.Y., her views on the top problems facing the country have shifted sharply from last fall when she was laid off, left without health care. Now, she’s working again, but she pays more than $1,000 a month for her health care. Yet she ranks the war in Iraq as her top concern.
“Definitely the war,” she said. “I don’t know whether we’re getting the full story of why we got in there. It’s almost like started by the father (of President Bush.)”
She said the war struck close to home when one of her co-workers learned recently that fighting in Iraq had claimed his son, the father of three small children.
Health care has dropped slightly as one of the top concerns. Nineteen percent ranked it as a top problem in January, but the number has since slipped to 14 percent, about where it was last summer.
About one in 20 people mentioned the “energy crisis,” particularly gasoline prices. Last summer, neither energy nor gas prices were on people’s minds at all as a top problem. One in 10 mentioned the energy crisis as one of the nation’s top problems, triple the number who said that last summer.
The biggest change in the AP-Ipsos poll’s quarterly survey of the nation’s top problems was the increased concern about the war. Ten percent in the poll specifically mentioned the “war in Iraq” — compared with 2 percent who specifically named the war in Iraq as the top problem last summer.
Noreen Hunt, a contracts manager in San Diego, said war in Iraq was the top problem because “it’s killing people.”
“It’s becoming more of a problem, because it’s not getting resolved,” she said. “It looks like Vietnam all over again.”
Among those who said war was the top problem, two in 10 said the country is headed down the wrong track. Half that many of them said the country is headed in the right direction.
Kelley Holcomb, a 47-year-old federal government worker from Atlanta, said he feels the war in Iraq may be a difficult fight right now, but he thought the Iraq efforts will help achieve peace in the long run.
“If we can have an opening for freedom in that part of the world,” he said, “people will see it working and it will be good for the entire region.”
The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,001 adults was taken April 5-7 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.