January 27, 2014

State of the Union 2014: Where Americans stand on key issues

President Obama delivers the 2013 State of the Union address.

President Obama and other administration officials have been road-testing several possible themes and proposals that are likely to come up in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, with all indications being that he will concentrate on domestic issues. While there will be plenty of partisan debate over the speech’s content, we thought it would be informative to look at what Americans think about topics that Obama is likely to discuss.

1Economy: Americans still have mostly bleak views of the national economy, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. 45% rated economic conditions “only fair” and 39% “poor,” compared with 16% who termed them excellent or good. For more information, see our key data points.

2Health care reform: More than half (54%) of Americans disapprove of Obama’s signature health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, according to a Pew Research survey from December; 41% said they approved of the law. Nearly half (48%) said the law would make the nation’s health care situation worse in the long run, 35% said it would make it better, and 12% said it wouldn’t make much difference either way.

3Income inequality: 65% of Americans say the gap between the rich and everyone else has widened in the past decade, according to a new Pew Research Center survey; a similar percentage (67%) recently told Gallup they were dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are distributed in the U.S. In the Pew Research survey, nearly seven-in-ten Americans said the government should do “a lot” (43%) or “some” (26%) to reduce the gap. For more on inequality (especially the impact on the middle class), see these key data points.

4Minimum wage: 73% support raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, according to Pew Research; 40%  say they “strongly favor” such an increase.

5Unemployment benefits: 63% support a one-year extension of federal unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, the Pew Research Center reports.

6College affordability: About three-quarters (77%) of respondents in a September 2013 Washington Post-Miller Center poll said it’s become harder for people like them to pay for college. In a November Allstate/National Journal poll, only 45% of Americans said paying for a college education would be “very” or “somewhat” realistic given their current financial situation; 47% said it would be “not very” or “not at all” realistic.

7Immigration: Seven-in-ten Americans (71%) support a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, our survey from June 2013 found, and 77% say any legislation establishing such a process also should increase border security. But the public is divided on whether people in the country illegally should be allowed to pursue legal status while border improvements are being made (49%) or only after effective border control is established (43%). We further explore Americans’ complex feelings about immigration in our key data points.

8NSA surveillance: 53% of Americans disapprove of the government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of its anti-terrorism efforts, according to our January survey. Half of Americans say they’ve not heard anything about Obama’s proposed changes to the surveillance program; of those who have heard of the changes, few think they’ll have much effect on either protecting privacy or fighting terrorism.

9Climate change: Two-thirds (67%) of Americans say there’s solid evidence that the earth has been getting warmer over the last few decades, our survey last October found, and most of those (or 44% of the public) say that’s mostly because of human activity. But Americans don’t see climate change as an especially urgent problem: Just 29% of people in a new Pew Research survey said “dealing with global warming” should be a top priority for Obama and Congress this year. For more on the climate of opinion and opinions on climate, see our key data points.

10Foreign policy: Americans don’t care — 78% say it’s more important for Obama to focus on domestic policy, versus just 9% who say the president should turn his attention to foreign policy. If you’re among that 9%, you might want to check out our key data points.

Topics: Health Care, Immigration Attitudes, National Security, Income Inequality

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. young nina (flower)3 years ago


  2. fladlow4 years ago

    It is difficult for me to believe the data quoted above, even from July 2013. From my own experience, it is “how” the question is formed and asked that will determine the positive or negative answer. Too many times I’ve been asked a question that I was damned if I agreed or damned if I didn’t !!! Have you ever asked the question “If offered, would you and or your family at any age sign up for Medicare Health Benefits?” Throw in the Medicare Advantage and you have Affordable Care Act. I’m a 90 year old on Social Security of $1100 a month– after $103 deduction for Medicare + $166 a month to private supplemental insurance + $20-$30 a month for two VA RX. Total Health Care
    Annual Cost is over $3500 a year. My only question is why is it that Medicare pays 80% and gets $103 from me and my private supplemental insurance pays 20% of the bill and gets $166?????

  3. Jay B Bern4 years ago

    I have not seen recent polling on Obama’s favorability numbers, post his address Tuesday. Frankly, he appears to be done, and it is doubtful that Podesta or even a pat on the shoulder from a Clinton will help him. And he has earned this status with the American people who practiced blind faith in electing him twice. (And they practiced it both times.)

    Income equality is a monumental issue, but at its core, it is a separate issue from the issue of people being “too rich.” Several decades ago social scientists and demographics specialists predicted the decline of the middle class and the advent of the tech. revolution. Some people prepared for it, and others did not. There are jobs waiting in Work World for educated and/or skilled technicians and craftsmen (carpenters), but many Americans are too far behind to be attractive to employers. Many can’t even qualify to join the Army. They have had children they can’t afford, and this drives them deeper into poverty. I don’t see that these poor decisions are the fault of those who have wealth.

  4. Rob4 years ago

    I find it curious that Republicans say at the same time – go where there are jobs and get one and at the same time say the family is the core of the economy. Which is it? And thanks to the poster who pointed out how Reagan and Bush dramatically increased our debt. This being Super Bowl week, I will quote Chuck Noll – if you have a reputation for being an early riser, you can sleep until noon. Republicans do NOT reduce the debt. They just spend money on other things. It’s easy to find a lazy, slovenly welfare recipient and point him out. Harder to say the same thing about a whole industry, full of suits (I wear one) and loaded up with PR folks and tax lawyers.

  5. Don4 years ago

    Reagan, in a compromise with the Democratic Congress, actually increased taxes on the rich. He lowered the top tax bracket, but he eliminated so many loopholes that the wealthiest Americans wound up paying a higher percentage of their income in taxes.

    In the Clinton era, the US was living in a bubble caused largely by the Fed under Alan Greenspan. Greenspan knew the economy was in a bubble but didn’t have the courage to burst it. That made the recession after Clinton so much worse.

  6. Bwin4 years ago

    I’m curious why no one asks opinions regarding the toxic radioactive Pacific Ocean whose waters have been poisoned by the Fukushima meltdown. I’m curious why no one is asked about tracking radioactivity levels in the seafood that we are now expected to ingest at our peril. It seems to me we are focusing on issues that by comparison are pretty minor.

  7. michtom4 years ago

    Asking opinions of the effectiveness of Obamacare–something that has basically not happened yet–is illegitimate.

  8. kevin snow4 years ago

    If only you were the one who lost your job after 15yrs , and had to face what these people are facing , I see people looking daily for jobs , can’t you read there are 3 applicants to every job available , the problem isn’t expanding unemployment the problem is jobs itself there isn’t enough jobs in America for all the people , to say your supporting someone needing help is a low blow , how bout telling the government to bring manufacturing back again it’s not the job seekers problem there trying

    1. Uncle Sam3 years ago

      And by the way, if you’ve read my previous comment, I didn’t mean slavery got us billions in the 1830s. It was just the cotton. Please, don’t get me wrong, because I despise slavery as well, because it takes away the people’s power of free will, which is given to everyone by God. Everyone deserves fair and equal rights.

  9. Sandy4 years ago

    I find it hard to apply for health care coverage after having my unemployment cut off after 20 weeks.

    1. Scott4 years ago

      20 weeks and you can’t find a job? Look harder or look elsewhere, we are not here to support you forever.

      1. joann4 years ago

        no one ask to be funded forever, but we would like to be be able to live until we find a job, all I wish is you that are against extending unemployment would have to walk in our shoes, people that were laid off thru no fault of their own. People that want to work

      2. Proud Mom4 years ago

        Wow she obviously was working and paying her taxes in case she needed to draw unemployment. I have a full time job and have never been on unemployment, but I cannot imagine paying bills and buying groceries for my children if I ever lost my job. These people need help while trying to find a job. NO 20 weeks of help isn’t always enough time. Stop thinking these people are just being lazy and pull together as Americans to try and improve the situation!

      3. Robin4 years ago

        Scott I’m sure it seems that way in your world. Perhaps this would be true 20 years ago. A friend of mine worked at an adult daycare, where you feed, bath, & entertain the elderly. This job was $8 an hour – when a position opened 165 people applied.

    2. Michael Nichols4 years ago

      It you live where in a city or town where they are shedding jobs, Its almost impossible to relocate. You don’t even know if there will be jobs where you are moving… A lot of people enter JOB TRAINING and it takes up to a year to complete because there a no longer a need for people in that skill trade.. 20 weeks is not enough

  10. Alicia Mitchell4 years ago

    Please sign my petition to cut congressional salaries and pensions which we fund to fund a one year extension of the emergency unemployment program. Please feel free to share this link with anyone interested wh.gov/l58nQ

  11. Arthur Ramirez4 years ago

    Since 2009 the Federal government hasn’t been able to come together to improve the Economy, the Democrats want to improve infrastructure, and Republicans have been concerned about the deficit as their number 1 goal!! Healthcare and its affect on the overall deficit especially Medicare, has been a drag on decreasing the cost of medical care, the Democrats have not had any assistance from the Republicans to improve the cost of medical care, whether it be Medicaid, Medicare, or Obama care. If the Congress would work together maybe some of these problems could be solved and improve the overall economy and also reduce the deficit!! Immigration is a mess, I believe that Obama has been trying to improve the overall situation, he has deported I believe about 1 million illegal aliens, many of who are criminals. To secure the border has improved, but when you have an open border, it takes a lot of money and manpower, which takes diligence! Probably one of the biggest factors is our visa program where people come and over stay their vista. There needs to be rules and regulations that stop this, this is a no brainer, do it now, what is the problem. NSA and their programs to spy on people needs some balance, but I do support overall the goal of fighting terrorism. The world is a dangerous place, and there are people and groups inside and outside the United States that want to do us harm, we need to keep up the diligence!! Climate change is a broad meaning, my concern is mostly with the quality of air that we breath, controlling the stuff that we put into the air, needs to controlled through self regulation, or government regulation, which one works the best, I guess we know the answer to that!!! Foreign policy needs to be that USA stays strong, and that we don’t let our guard down, but I don’t think that we need to get into any other conflicts, unless is directly affects us. Besides the Muslim extremest, China and Russia I believe are two greatest foes, they want to dominate and expand their political agendas. We are still the cradle of modern day innovation, and need to keep ourselves Strong and Prepared for things that happen around US. God Bless America!

  12. Callitthewayiseeit4 years ago

    Looking at this I continue to see that we as Americans are sheep and will listen to whatever either party and the news media spout and I am just as guilty. I have found in my conversations and based on this survey as well, that most Americans believe the same things fundimentally regardless of party affiliation. Should minimim wage increase? Maybe not nationally, but on a state by state basis it does cost more to live in some places than others. Should we have immigration reform? We certainly need to lock down the boards AND our country thrives only by allowing immigration. What makes the economy better? Only lower taxes and allowing business and ideas to flurish. Is there an income gap? Yes. And there always will be but lowering taxes and making it easier for businesses and ideas to take off will allow the real American dream to survive and thrive. The idea of America is not about parties and politics, it’s about people. We as citizens need to recapture our ability to make decisions for ourselves.

    1. WriterDude4 years ago

      Lower taxes do not make the economy better, and tax cuts do not create jobs or growth. This is a lie. Reagan cut taxes on upper brackets and had average GDP of 2.8. Bush Jr. cut taxes and had GDP better than 3.0 only about 30% of the time.

      Both Reagan and Bush Jr. doubled the national debt and increased spending about 6.8 to 7%. Reagan left Bush Sr. with deficits of about $500 billion. Bush Jr. left Obama with deficits of about $1.5 trillion a year.

      Clinton reversed supply-side tax cuts and had GDP greater than 3.0 about 70% of the time. He increased spending only 3.4%. He added only $500 billion to the debt (over 8 years) and left with a budget SURPLUS.

      Obama has increased spending on 1.3% and only partly revered supply-side tax cuts. If conservatives had not obstructed growth, GDP would be much higher.

      1. Ed4 years ago


        This fight about unemployment comes down to companies not wanting to hire unless they can hire cheap H1B labor to keep wages down. Same as how GOP holds legislation hostage to prove an ideological point. Counter productive.

  13. Guest4 years ago

    Don’t even start on income inequality and immigration unless there will be restrictions on H1B visas, otherwise it’s a moot point and you are talking out of both sides of your mouth.