I found the graph above from the Gallup organization (hat tip: The American Interest) on Americans’ priorities on various public policy issues very interesting. Perhaps a little explanation is in order. The graph is divided two ways: left to right and top to bottom. The farther something is to the right in the graph the more important people think it is. The farther down something is in the graph the more satisified people are with things as they are. Consequently, people are pretty satisifed and/or disinterested in issues in the lower left hand corner and dissatisfied and/or interested in issues in the upper right hand corner.
The issue about which people are most dissatisfied and think is the highest priority is the economy. The issues that people think aren’t particularly important and/or are satisfied with aren’t quite as clear-cut: those are either the “acceptance of gays and lesbians” or “race relations” depending on whether you give more weight to dissatisfaction or priority. However, both of those issues plus abortion, environment, and energy policy are in the low dissatisfaction/low priority quadrant while poverty and homelessness, public education, federal taxes, affordable healthcare, and Social Security and Medicare round out the high dissatisfaction/high priority quadrant.
Note that the bulk of government spending is pretty well represented in the high dissatisfaction/high priority quadrant. “Military”, interestingly, is in the high priority/low dissatisfaction quadrant which I would interpret as a belief that the issue is being handled about right.
I think there are confounding factors in this kind of analysis. Some people are highly interested in issues that most people aren’t particularly interested in one way or another. It seems to me that could skew the results. Additionally, are priority and satisfaction really independent variables? I would think that the less satisfied one is with something would grant priority to an issue it might otherwise not have. Finally, my observation is that some people need permission before they feel comfortable about expressing dissatisfaction or interest in an issue. For those people leaders have a profound influence and that’s why public opinion can sometimes turn on a dime.
I’m not sure how I’d respond if I had to select from among the issues in Gallup’s list. I think I’d rate the economy as the highest issue with which I’m the least satisfied followed by affordable healthcare, world affairs, immigration, and energy policy. However, I tend to see many of the issues as interconnected, e.g. I think that an improved economy would go a long way to fixing the problems with issues I’d prioritize other than, perhaps, affordable healthcare. So, for example, I think improving the economy and getting some control over immigration would go a long way to improving race relations or, at least, bring our issues with race relations into sharper relief. I also think that a more energy-friendly energy policy would go a long way towards improving our economy.