The 2016 presidential election is an especially important time in America. Not only is it a time for Americans to choose their next commander-in-chief, but it is also a time where the greatest number of Americans are engaged in debate on the country’s most critical issues.
Polls during election years tend to act as reliable litmus tests for determining which issues are truly most important to America’s citizenry, compared to off-election years, when overall participation in the democratic process is far lower.
In a recent poll from early January 2016, polling organization Gallup asked respondents what they thought was the most important problem facing Americans at that particular time. According to the poll’s results, 76 percent of respondents chose a variety of social issues over economic problems. More than ever, people appear to be more concerned about social issues than economic ones, a stark reversal of popular opinion just a few years earlier.
In recent history, economic issues have typically been of utmost importance to voters. In 2009, for example, more than 86 percent of respondents to the same Gallup poll above cited economic issues as most important to them. The recently polled 28 percent is the lowest seen in more than eight years.
Generally speaking, the American people have a tendency to choose which issues are most important to them based on their most immediate concerns or fears. For example, more than three-quarters of Americans found the country’s economic situation concerning immediately following the 2008 recession. Today in 2016, America’s economy is even stronger than it was prior to the recession, and people’s concerns have shifted back to social issues such as domestic and international terrorism, immigration, gun control, and general dissatisfaction with the government.
While such a correlation makes sense, it fails to account for some of our country’s most pressing issues. Social issues such as race relations, immigration and gun control are all important debates that are an integral part of our democratic process. However, in the midst of these issues we often forget about the greatest issues that affect all Americans.
One prominent example of this is our country’s national deficit, which at the time of writing has exceeded $19 trillion. The total U.S. deficit rises by an excess of $20,000 per second, yet it garners little discussion time in debates compared to more hotly contested social issues.
Another critical economic issue, and perhaps the most problematic in recent history, is Social Security. The United States is currently liable for more than $26.7 trillion in Social Security payouts and benefits, and as more and more Americans reach gain eligibility, few people seem to have an adequate solution to promise that members of the workforce will be guaranteed payouts upon retirement. Despite the fact that politicians from both parties recognize this issue, few are willing to discuss it on the national stage, perhaps in the hope that the problem will be solved in the future.
Unlike gun control, immigration and other social issues, economic issues such as the national deficit and Social Security undisputedly affect all Americans. Issues like these are ones nearly all can agree are problematic, and thus are problems we should be using to unite the American people behind a common enemy of sorts. The greatest issues – the ones everyone chooses to ignore because everyone knows they exist – are ironically the ones we should be focusing on the most, especially in our highly-divisive political landscape.
Economic and social issues are both important in America, and must be discussed and debated in order to find and enact the best solutions to the greatest problems of our day and age. However, we must also remember that often the greatest threats to our country are the issues that affect everyone – and the ones we often leave by the wayside until it is too late.
Eric Vining is a junior political science and journalism major from Houston. He is a reporter for the Lariat.