WASHINGTON – National security issues such as the war in Iraq and terrorism are dominating voters' attention in the final weeks before Election Day, Associated Press polling found.
Along with security issues like war and terrorism, the economy and health care were near the top of the list of the nation's most important problems in an AP-Ipsos poll.
In a poll by CBS News in October 2000, the most important problems were Social Security (search), education and health care. National defense and the military were at 2 percent.
National security issues were picked by 55 percent of Americans as the most important problems facing the nation, according to the poll taken in early October — up from 43 percent who named national security issues in an April poll.
When asked in an open-ended question to identify the most important problems facing the United States, 27 percent mentioned war. That number has tripled since the summer of 2003 in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. An additional 18 percent named terrorism. Respondents were allowed to name more than one problem; smaller numbers mentioned other national security issues.
Economic problems — including the overall economy and unemployment — were named by four in 10, far behind national security issues. Two in 10 specifically mentioned the economy, and 13 percent said unemployment.
About one-fourth of those questioned mentioned other domestic issues, especially health care, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.
War in Iraq
Concerns about war have grown steadily since July 2003, tripling since the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. Violence by a strengthening insurgency has been increasing since then.
Strong supporters of Democrat John Kerry (search) were far more likely than strong supporters of President Bush (search) to name 'wars" as a top problem, according to the AP-Ipsos poll. Those who see the Iraq war as a top issue are slightly more inclined to support Kerry, other polls suggest.
"I think we should get out as quick as we can. We never, never should've got in," said Art Van Moorelehem, a retired farmer from Arlington, S.D.
Still Bush gets more saying they trust him to handle Iraq.
William Alexander, chief executive of a Vermont mental health center, said Bush "has done about as good a job as anyone could do."
Terrorism continues to be a top concern, though it has not increased as a worry in recent months. Nearly two in 10 — 18 percent — called it a top problem.
Those who name terrorism as a top problem are far more likely to support Bush. Likely voters are more inclined to trust Bush than Kerry on that issue.
Sue Crawley, a foster care adoption worker from Crestview, Fla., said she's supporting the president because of the terrorist threat: "I think he's doing the best he can with what he walked into and what he needs to accomplish here. You know sometimes you just can't do it in four years."
The economy has edged higher in the public's thinking over the last three months. Two in 10 — 22 percent — called the economy a top problem and another 13 percent said unemployment. Strong Kerry supporters were more likely to name it as a top issue than strong Bush backers in the AP poll. Kerry has an advantage over the president on which candidate people trust more to handle the economy and jobs.
Anne Flagg, an administrative worker at a college in Emporia, Kan., says her biggest concern is the local economy, which she feels is in trouble after losing two major employers.
"I can see it in a lot of different ways," she said of the town's economic problems. "I see the kids in the school, hear about the money they don't get to buy things. As of last week, our Salvation Army had no food left."
About two in 10 — 21 percent — named health care as a top issue, up from 14 percent who said that in April. Bush supporters and Kerry supporters were about equally likely to mention it as a top problem. Those who name health care as the top issue are more likely to support Kerry. And voters generally trust him more to handle it.
Retiree Ronald DeVos, 57, of Franklin Lake, N.J., is leaning toward Kerry because of his talk about health care solutions. DeVos has to cover his own insurance until he becomes eligible for Medicare.
"Millions of people don't have health care," he said. "I'm buying my own insurance, it's a thousand dollars a month."
Anthony Adams, a retiree from Manchester, Ky., has high insurance and medical costs, but he doesn't blame Bush. "My insurance is $544 a month. It's hard to do anything. Health care is so costly and prescriptions are outrageous, too," he said.
The poll of 1,000 adults was taken Oct. 4-6 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The question about the nation's top problems was asked of 479 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.