Americans’ Top Priorities for 2023: Pew Research Center

Economy Remains the Public’s Top Policy Priority; COVID-19 Concerns Decline Again

Increased focus on deficit reduction; Republicans far more likely than Democrats to view it as a top priority

With a new era of divided government beginning in Washington, the public’s top policy priority has not changed: Strengthening the economy tops Americans’ agenda, as it did a year ago.

Chart shows Strengthening the economy is Americans’ top policy priority; dealing with COVID-19 is among the lowest

However, there have been some notable changes in Americans’ priorities for the president and Congress to address this year. Reducing the budget deficit is now a higher priority for the public than in recent years (now 57% vs. 45% a year ago). The change has come among members of both parties, though Republicans and those who lean to the Republican Party (71%) are far more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners (44%) to view cutting the deficit as a leading priority. And dealing with the coronavirus outbreak is now one of the lowest priorities for Americans – just 26% now say it should be a top priority for the president and Congress, but it was among the top priorities in both 2021 and 2022.

Overall, 75% of Americans say strengthening the economy should be a top priority this year, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted Jan. 18-24, 2023, among 5,152 U.S. adults. The public continues to express negative views of national economic conditions, despite continued job growth and signs that inflation may be easing. Just 21% rate economic conditions as excellent or good, which is only a slight increase from October (17%).

Aside from the economy, no single policy area stands out. About six-in-ten rate several issues as top priorities: reducing health care costs (60%), defending against terrorism (60%), reducing the influence of money in politics (59%), reducing the budget deficit (57%), reducing crime (57%) and improving education (57%).

About half of Americans (53%) say reducing the availability of illegal drugs, including heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, should be a top priority for the president and Congress. Similar shares say the same about dealing with immigration (53%), improving the energy system (52%) and improving the job situation (49%).

Among the lowest items on the public’s agenda for the president and Congress are dealing with climate change (37%), dealing with global trade issues (34%) and addressing issues around race (32%). The public gives the lowest priority to dealing with the challenges facing parents (27%) and dealing with the coronavirus outbreak (26%). (For a closer look at the top policy priorities of partisan and demographic groups, see the detailed tables accompanying this report.)

While there are sizable differences in the shares of Americans who rate each of the 21 items included in the survey as a “top priority” for the president and Congress to address this year, in most cases large majorities rate each one as either a top priority or as an “important but lower priority.” Relatively few Americans say these policies “should not be done” or are “not too important.” At most, about 10% say a handful of policies should not be done (including 11% who say this about dealing with climate change and 9% for dealing with the coronavirus outbreak).

Chart shows deficit concerns increase among members of both parties, but Republicans are more likely than Democrats to rate deficit reduction as a top priority

Strengthening the economy has long been among the public’s top policy priorities. As has been the case for the last several years, strengthening the economy is a higher priority among Republicans and independents who lean Republican (84% say top priority) than among Democrats and Democratic leaners (68%).

Republicans (71%) also are much more likely than Democrats (44%) to say reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority, though both Republicans and Democrats are more likely to say this now than in either of the past two years. The share saying deficit reduction should be a top priority has increased 8 percentage points among Republicans and 13 points among Democrats since last year.

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