WASHINGTON (AP) — Recent headlines could make you think this election would be different. Perhaps, for the first time since the Great Recession, the economy wouldn't be the top issue. The latest Associated Press-GfK poll suggests that's not going to happen.
Nine in 10 likely voters in the survey said the economy was an important issue, outpacing rising concerns about terrorism, ongoing concerns about health care, and the social issues that have led to sharp clashes on the campaign trail.
Where voters stand on the top issues in the midterm elections:
The nation's economic blues remain at the top of voters' list of important issues. Asked to name the nation's biggest problem, 19 percent cite the economy, significantly higher than the 12 percent who name the next highest issue on the list, terrorism and national security. Among all adults, 4 in 10 approve of President Barack Obama's handling of the issue, a figure that's held steady since late last year.
Likely voters give Republicans a narrow edge as the party more trusted to handle the economy, 36 percent to 31 percent who favor the Democrats' approach. But six years after impressions of the economy took a negative turn from which public opinion has never recovered, a sizable 22 percent say they trust neither party on the issue. Overall, 62 percent of likely voters describe the economy as "poor," about the same as at this point in 2012, but better than 2010, when 79 percent of likely voters said it was in bad shape.
Many expected Obama's signature domestic policy initiative to become a central topic in this year's campaigns, but the voters are less interested. Though 8 in 10 call health care an important issue for them personally, when asked to name the top issue facing the country, just 5 percent of likely voters named health care.
Public opinion on the law has been stagnant since the rollout of the state insurance exchanges a year ago. Overall, 25 percent of adults say they support the health care program, 40 percent oppose it, and 34 percent are neutral. About 6 in 10 say the law itself has been more of a failure than a success. Among likely voters, there's more support for the health care overhaul (30 percent), but also more opposition (47 percent).
Those likely voters who call health care an extremely important issue are more closely divided than others on how the law's been working, though they still fall mainly on the negative side of the line: 45 percent say it's been a success while 54 percent call it a failure.
About two-thirds of likely voters call illegal immigration a serious problem for the United States today, and 8 percent name immigration or border security as the top issue facing the nation. Only 35 percent say they approve of Obama's handling of the issue.
Voters are generally in favor of providing a legal way for illegal immigrants already in the United States to become citizens: 53 percent back that, but that support rests heavily on Democratic likely voters, 75 percent of whom favor such a policy. Among Republicans who are most apt to mail in a ballot or show up at the polls, 33 percent favor it, along with 37 percent of independent likely voters.
THREAT OF TERRORISM
About 8 in 10 likely voters say terrorism is a key issue for them, with Republicans more apt than Democrats to consider it important. Overall, 83 percent of Republicans say the issue is important, compared with 72 percent of Democrats. Similarly, 87 percent of Republicans consider the threat posed by the Islamic State group an important issue, compared with 75 percent of Democrats. Although some have raised the possibility of security-focused women as a key to the election, there is no difference by gender on the importance of the issue.
Republicans have a 16-point advantage among likely voters as the party more trusted to protect the country, 39 percent vs. 23 percent, and it's one issue where the parties haven't lost quite as much faith among the public. Just 16 percent say they trust "neither" party to keep the nation safe, the lowest share on any issue tested in the poll.
Democrats hold their strongest advantages in the poll on issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage, yet these same issues land near the bottom of voters' priority lists. Asked in an open-ended question to name the most important issue currently facing the U.S., neither issue scored even 1 percent of responses. When asked how important each issue was personally, 43 percent of likely voters ranked abortion an important one, while 32 percent said that about same-sex marriage.
Female likely voters are more likely to call both issues important. On abortion, 47 percent of women consider it important, compared with 38 percent of men, and on same-sex marriage, 35 percent of women say it's a key issue, compared with 28 percent of men.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 25-29, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents. Among 958 likely voters, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com