As views of the economy improve and terrorist threats persist, the public’s policy priorities have changed: more Americans cite defending the United States against terrorism (76 percent) as a top policy priority as say that about strengthening the nation’s economy (75 percent).
Since Barack Obama began his second term in January 2013, the economy has declined 11 points as a top priority, and improving the job situation has fallen 12 points (from 79 percent to 67 percent).
There has been little change over the past two years in the number saying that defending against terrorism should be a top priority; in fact, this has consistently been among the public’s leading policy goals since 2002. But it has moved to the top of the priorities list as the economy and jobs have fallen.
Older Americans attach more importance than younger Americans to defending against terrorism (84 percent vs. 69 percent).
The Pew Research Center’s annual policy priorities survey, conducted January 7-11 among 1,504 adults, also finds that the goal of strengthening the military has increased in importance. Currently, 52 percent say strengthening the military should be a top policy priority for the president and Congress this year, up from 41 percent in January 2013.
While there have been increases since 2013 in the percentages of both Republicans (from 58 percent to 71 percent) and Democrats (from 31 percent to 41 percent) rating a stronger military as a top priority, this is now a leading goal for Republicans. It now ranks close to the economy, jobs and the budget deficit among Republicans’ top priorities. Terrorism by a wide margin ranks first among Republicans (87 percent).
Immigration, for which there is no 2013 trend point, has grown as a priority since last year; 52 percent of those surveyed view it as a top priority, compared with 40 percent last January.
While the recent terrorist attacks in Paris did not result in a major increase in worries about a possible attack soon in the United States, there has been growing concern over Islamist extremism, both in North America and overseas. A Pew Research Center poll in September — as the threat from ISIS emerged — found 53 percent saying they were very concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the US, up 17 percentage points on 2011.