American’s views of their standard of living are up. Job creation is up. It sounds like good news, but if we take off the rose-colored glasses, the economy is still a the main concern for most Americans in 2014.
We look back with Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, 10 years at a time, to see what was foremost on the minds of Americans and how it changed over time. May the fours be with you.
The most important problem facing the country, according to Americans, was the war in Iraq. George W. Bush’s job approval rating was relatively high at 49 percent. The majority of Americans by that point disapproved of the war, the quickest “souring” on war in Gallup’s history.
The most important problem was crime, followed closely by health care. The latter was fueled by the health care reform pitch being put together by the Clintons, which of course was doomed to failure. Bill’s job approval rating was just a tad higher than Obama’s today, but it was on its way down. One of the big issues on people’s minds at that point was O.J. Simpson, and Gallup was busy asking the public if they thought he “did it.”
Unemployment still reigned as the top problem, but the economy was recovering. President Reagan’s approval rating was a robust 55 percent, and he was to go on to win re-election very handily against Walter Mondale that fall. Gallup was asking Americans if they used their seat belts. Only 25 percent said that they did.
Surprisingly, given that Nixon was to resign at the end of the summer, the most important problem was the cost of living, with dysfunctional government coming in second. Nixon’s job approval rating was 26 percent, heading to a low of 24 percent just before he resigned.
Americans said that race issues were the most important problems facing the country, stemming from LBJ’s historic push that summer of the new Civil Rights Bill which he signed into law on July 2. Despite controversy over the bill, Johnson’s job approval remained sky high at 74 percent — as he continued to benefit from the aftermath of the grief after Kennedy’s death the previous November. Gallup was just beginning to ask about the Vietnam War, the issue that ultimately would be LBJ’s downfall.
The Cold War was clearly the nation’s top problem. President Ike Eisenhower’s job approval rating was a very nice 62 percent. Gallup was asking Americans about Joseph McCarthy and about cigarettes. Less than half of Americans believed at that point that smoking caused cancer.