The April 7-11 poll was conducted in the final days of negotiations that led to a budget agreement late Friday night that averted a government shutdown, and in the initial days after the deal was reached. Americans were just as likely to mention the budget as the most important problem on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday as they were on Thursday and Friday.
Americans’ increasing likelihood to cite the federal budget as the most important problem could be a function of its status as a dominant issue in the news media. Gallup has historically found that it ranks low on the most important problem list, but it has risen at times when the president and Congress make it a major focus. This occurred during the 1990 negotiations on the budget between President George H.W. Bush and congressional Democrats on a plan to reduce the deficit that led to Bush’s breaking his campaign promise not to raise taxes. It also happened during the budget standoff between President Bill Clinton and the Republicans in Congress in 1995 and 1996.
The issue of the federal deficit is not an immediate issue but a generational one. Americans are just now understanding what crushing debt will do to the countries standing in the world. I suspect while the economy and unemployment will remain as the top issues concerning Americans, this issue will be at the forefront at least until the Presidential elction in 2012.