Paying for health care has emerged as the top concern of American families, according to the latest national Monmouth University Poll. Two years ago this concern was clustered with job security and other household bills as causing the most anxiety for American households. Half the country feels that their current financial situation is stable, but the remainder are more likely to feel that they are struggling to keep their finances afloat than say their situation is improving. These concerns cut across party lines, but Americans’ views of whether government action helps or hurts their situation is colored by partisanship.
Currently, 1-in-4 Americans (25%) report that the cost of health care is the biggest concern facing their family right now. Two years ago, 15% reported this as their family’s primary concern. Anxiety about meeting health care costs now outpaces job and unemployment worries (14%) as well as concerns about paying everyday household bills (12%). Health care is the top concern of American families regardless of income level or partisan identity. A variety of other concerns register in the single digits, such as school costs (4%) and taxes (4%).
“The top three concerns were clustered together just two years ago. Now, health care has jumped to the top of the list as Americans grapple with balancing their household budgets,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey. “It’s also worth noting that issues that have been dominating the news, such as immigration and national security, rank very low on the list of items that keep Americans up at night.”
Half of Americans (51%) say their personal financial situation is stable, while 29% say they are struggling to remain where they are and 20% say their financial circumstances are improving. Most Americans describe their current financial situation as being either middle class (40%) or working class (30%). Another 16% say they are upper middle class or better off and 13% describe themselves as poor.
Among self-described middle class Americans, 59% say their situation is stable, 23% improving, and 18% struggling. Among the working class, 52% are stable, 34% struggling, and 14% improving. Among the well-off, 56% are stable, 36% improving, and 8% struggling. Among those who describe themselves as poor, though, 75% say they are struggling to stay where they are, 18% feel they are stable and just 7% feel their situation is improving.
“It’s important to note that there are no significant partisan differences in how Americans see their own financial situation. However, they do view the government’s impact on their personal circumstances through a partisan lens,” said Murray.
Just 27% of Americans say that the federal government has helped with their family’s top concern while 37% say government actions over the past few years have actually hurt their ability to deal with this concern. Another 34% say that the federal government has had no real impact either way on their family’s top concern. Opinion of Washington’s impact has improved slightly from two years ago, when just 14% of Americans said the federal government’s actions helped with their family’s top concern and nearly half (47%) said Washington made things worse.
Opinion is currently divided along partisan lines – just 9% of Republicans say the federal government has helped with their family’s top concern while 61% say Washington’s actions have been harmful. The opposite is true for Democrats – 48% helped and 16% hurt. Among independents, 22% say Washington has helped and 38% say it has hurt.
Americans are a little more optimistic about the federal government’s impact in the near future, although this opinion is still characterized by a partisan divide. Overall, 42% expect that Washington will help them deal with their family’s top concern over the next few years, 33% say Washington’s actions will hurt them, and 21% expect Washington will have no impact either way. Republicans (74% help and 5% hurt) are decidedly more positive than Democrats (15% help and 61% hurt) about how the federal government will affect their family’s top concern in coming years. Independents are mixed at 42% help and 30% hurt.
This partisan divide is evident even when the public is asked about ostensibly non-partisan impacts on their personal finances. For example, just under half of Americans say their family has benefitted either a great deal (12%) or some (35%) from recent growth in the American economy, including lower unemployment and a record Dow Jones average. The current 47% positive outlook is somewhat higher than it was either last year (43%) or two years ago (39%). However, Democrats (63%) are more likely than either independents (42%) or Republicans (37%) to say they have benefitted from the country’s economic upturn even though there are no significant partisan differences in whether people report they are struggling, stable, or getting ahead.
“The hyper-partisan atmosphere of politics penetrates every aspect of American life. This poses a challenge for measuring public opinion on issues that should transcend politics,” said Murray.
One area where different partisans do agree is whether the legislative branch of the federal government is looking out for average Americans. Barely 4-in-10 say that members of Congress give a great deal (7%) or some (32%) weight to the concerns of average Americans when deciding which policies to pursue, while the majority say Congress gives not much (39%) or no weight at all (19%) to what average Americans need when making policy decisions. Republicans (45%) are only slightly more likely than Democrats (39%) and independents (36%) to say that Congress gives at least some weight to the concerns of average Americans when deciding which policies to support.
“These results serve as a reminder that Republicans maintained control of Congress more because of Donald Trump’s coattails than due to any broad based endorsement of their ideological orthodoxy. Still, those who lead Congress have yet to pay a price for the public’s overwhelmingly negative opinion of the entire legislative branch and there appears to be little expectation that these leaders will change their ways,” said Murray.
More specifically, 77% of Americans say that members of Congress give more weight to partisan ideological concerns compared with just 13% who say that they give more weight to the concerns of average citizens. There is widespread agreement that members of Congress put ideology first – 80% of Republicans, 78% of independents, and 75% of Democrats.
“It is not clear whether Americans realistically expect the new administration to have a positive impact on their lives,” said Murray. “It’s worth noting that health care is more likely to be a top concern in the Midwest, at 31%, than it is elsewhere in the country. Considering that this region provided Trump his margin of victory, reaction to future health care reforms will be something to keep an eye on in terms of overall public support for the president.”
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from January 12 to 15, 2017 with 801 adults in the United States. The results in this release have a margin of error of +/-3.5 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.