Friday, February 12, 2010

Nation's Priorities

One of those standard survey questions is asking people what they think are the nation's greatest problems or top priorities. does a nice job of compiling these.  Since the middle of 2009, we've seen some interesting shifts. 

My favorite is one done by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News (a few screens down from the top of the page).  It forces people into choosing one area that should be the top priority of the federal government.  Here are the high points:
  • Health care has dropped from a high of 21 percent to 12 percent.
  • The deficit and government spending has dropped from a high of 19 percent to 13 percent.
  • Job creation remains high, with the latest number at 38 percent (up from 30 percent).
  • National security inched up, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remained stable.
Okay, so what do we take from the above?  Without getting too deeply into the agenda-setting by journalists and bloggers and talking heads, movement on these top priorities should ebb and flow based on real-world events.  It's not so much a fickle public as it is response to what's in the news, a recency effect.  Health care had its big moment last summer and into fall, but now it's being pushed aside both in the public mind -- and, let's face it, the Democrats as well -- because of other concerns.  The big one -- obviously -- being jobs.  Hence Obama's shift, the public response, or maybe it's the other way around (public concern -> Obama response).  Whatever the causal direction, the shift is unsurprising.

How accurate are people in identifying the most pressing issues?  That's unanswerable.  From a political standpoint, the public is completely accurate because you want to spin and position yourself to exploit or answer those concerns.  From a longterm perspective, the public is probably no better and no worse than your average journalist or politician.

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