Progress on economy and broken political process likely to be key to Obama’s second-term agenda

During Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touched on a wide range of topics including the economy, unemployment, climate, inequality, and immigration. But how far do these concerns mirror those of ordinary Americans?
GlobeScan’s most recent opinion polling suggests President Obama was wise to make economics and unemployment the centrepieces of his speech. The 17 percent of Americans who cite unemployment and underemployment as the biggest threats to their nation will have felt reassured to hear Obama echo their concerns. Meanwhile, 43 percent of Americans cite economic issues as being the top threat, though this figure also contains people concerned about the deficit and national debt, among whom Obama’s pledge for greater stimulus spending may be controversial.
Political polarization is likely to complicate the President’s vision for America—Republicans conspicuously failed to join Democrats in applauding Obama’s speech. This will not comfort the 10 percent of Americans for whom political problems are the biggest threat.
Beyond these issues, though, the State of the Union sometimes seemed to speak to more peripheral concerns. Despite Obama’s threat to act on climate change without Congress, just 2 percent of Americans currently cite the environment as their main national concern. While the President spoke of those who had helped rebuild America but were being left behind by growth, just 1 percent of respondents are primarily concerned about inequality—GlobeScan’s previous polling has consistently shown that, compared to other nations, Americans are not strongly concerned about wealth and inequality. And while Obama spoke both of harnessing the potential of migrants and of tightening border controls, only 1 percent of Americans name immigration as the biggest priority facing the USA.

Our polling seems to confirm that making progress on bread-and-butter issues, and fixing a broken political process, will be key to Obama’s ability to advance his agenda in his second term. Arguably, only then will he have the political capital to make headway on some of the less conspicuous—but no less serious—challenges facing America.

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2012
This post was written by former GlobeScan Research Director, Sam Mountford.