Focus on Inequality May Be Helping Obama
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The Fiscal Times
February 17, 2014

Well into the second half of his presidency, Barack Obama may not have shown much ability to move his Republican opposition in Congress, but a new Gallup Poll out today suggests that his use of the bully pulpit that comes with the White House may still impact public opinion.  

Two months after the president began a push to battle economic inequality and unemployment, dissatisfaction with the government and concern about healthcare have been displaced as Americans’ top worries by unemployment and general economic concerns. 

Related: Unemployed and Hoping for Help from Congress 

In November of last year, when asked to identify the biggest problem facing the United States at the time, 26 percent of respondents chose government dysfunction and 19 percent chose healthcare as the most significant challenges. This was hardly surprising, as the government had recently shut down over a budget dispute and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare exchanges was proving to be disastrous. 

In December, the president delivered a major address identifying economic inequality as “the defining challenge” facing the country, and began a series of speeches and public appearances focused on job creation and economic opportunity. 

Survey data released today shows that in the interim, the public’s focus has plainly shifted. Asked to identify the biggest problem in the U.S. right now, the largest number of respondents (23 percent) cited unemployment, and the second largest number cited the economy in general (20 percent). 

Those citing government and politicians as the major source of trouble dropped to 19 percent. Healthcare fell to 15 percent, lower than at any point since the Obamacare rollout, and 10 full percentage points lower than the 25 percent of votes it received back in August. 

Related: How the 113th Do-Nothing Congress Lived Up to Its Name 

Interestingly, the data shows that concern about unemployment is shared by members of both major political parties 24 percent of both Republicans and Democrats cited it as the top worry, along with 23 percent of Independents.

While the number of respondents worried about unemployment rose from 12 percent to 16 percent between December and January, there was an even bigger jump between January and February, from 16 percent to 23 percent. This likely reflected, in part, the president's State of the Union address in which unemployment was a major theme. The January-to-February period also accounted for a 2 percent increase in concern about the state of the economy, from 18 to 20 percent.

To be sure, just because the president may have been able to cause at least some people to change what they’re worried about doesn’t mean that he’s made the country as a whole any happier about things in general.

Asked if they were generally satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States, only 22 percent of respondents said they were satisfied, compared with 23 percent in both January and December. The February number, though, is still above the low of 16 percent that it hit in October. 

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A longtime reporter on the intersection of the federal government and the private sector, Rob Garver is National Correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He has written for ProPublica, The New York Times and other publications.