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After seismic political shift in the US, public policy priorities and deep divisions remain


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After seismic political shift in the US, public policy priorities and deep divisions remain

As Donald Trump enters the White House, the America’s leading policy priorities are little changed from the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency. And the partisan divisions over many of the public’s priorities – from dealing with global climate change to strengthening the nation’s military – remain as wide as ever, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center published on Tuesday.

Roughly three-quarters say that defending the country from terrorism (76%) and strengthening the economy (73%) should be top priorities for Congress and the new president. And two-thirds or more prioritize improving the educational system (69%), improving the job situation (68%) and reducing health care costs (66%).

These all have ranked among the public’s top policy priorities in recent years. Still, there are some changes in the public’s to-do list: A majority of Americans (55%) now cite protecting the environment as a top priority, up from 47% a year ago.

Global trade, which ranks relatively low on the public’s policy agenda, is viewed as more important than in the past. Currently, 40% say dealing with global trade issues should be a top policy priority, up from 31% last year. On the other hand, the share viewing immigration as a top priority has declined, from 51% to 43%, since January 2016.

The survey finds little change over the past year regarding the importance of reducing the budget deficit. But the deficit is viewed as a less important priority today than it was during most of Obama’s second term.

Currently, 52% say reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority for the president and Congress. Four years ago, after Obama’s reelection, 72% viewed cutting the deficit as a top priority. Among the survey’s other key findings:

Wide partisan gap over dealing with climate change

As in previous policy priority surveys, the widest partisan gap is on the importance of dealing with global climate change. About six-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (62%) say this should be a top priority for the president and Congress. Just 15% of Republicans say the same – making climate change by far the lowest-ranked of 21 policy priorities among Republicans and leaners.

Majorities in both parties now prioritize reducing health care costs

While there are wide partisan differences on whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), majorities of both Republicans (69%) and Democrats (63%) say reducing health care costs should be a top goal of the president and Congress. For Republicans, this represents a sizable change in attitudes. In 2009, just 44% of Republicans cited the reduction of health care costs as a top priority. Over the past year alone, the share of Republicans who say cutting health care costs should be a top priority has increased from 57% to 69%. Democrats’ views have shown less change over this period.

Older adults give greater priority to military, immigration and entitlements

The policy priorities of young people and older Americans differ in key respects. Older adults are more likely to prioritize strengthening the military, reducing the influence of lobbyists, immigration, Medicare and Social Security, among other issues. Conversely, younger people are more likely than their elders to prioritize environmental concerns.

Fewer view the economy, jobs as top priorities today than did so in Obama’s first year

While the economy remains one of the top priorities for most Americans, that share has declined over the past several years (from 85% in January 2009 and 86% in January 2013 to 73% today). Similarly, while about two-thirds (68%) now rate improving the job situation as a top priority, public emphasis on the employment situation in the country has declined in recent years – eight years ago (82%) and four years ago (79%), roughly eight-in-ten Americans rated this a top priority.

The survey was conducted Jan. 4-9, 2017 among 1,502 adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points for results based on the full sample.

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