Emerging Priorities for 2006 – Energy, Crime and Environment

  • January 25, 2006
  • By Andrew Kohut

As President Bush prepares for his January 31, 2006, State of the Union address, most Americans remain skeptical that the economy is improving, in spite of recent positive signals. Overall, about a third (34%) rate economic conditions as excellent or good, while nearly twice that number say conditions are only fair or poor (64%). Views of the economy are more favorable than in the fall, when economic attitudes were shaken by two major hurricanes and a spike in gas prices, but remain below where they were a year ago (39% positive in January 2005).

In stark contrast to the Clinton years, public views of the economy during Bush's presidency have been deeply split along political lines. Republicans generally see an economy that is thriving; 56% judge it as excellent or good. Democrats and independents see it much more negatively; just 28% of independents and 23% of Democrats say the economy is doing well.

This national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 4-8, 2006, among 1,503 adults, finds only modest public expectations for this year's State of the Union address. Just 30% think Bush's speech will be more important than speeches in past years, down slightly compared with last year and 2004 (34% each); in both 2002 and 2003, majorities felt that Bush's State of the Union would be more important than past addresses.

As in recent years, the public gives highest priority to protecting the country against terrorism, along with dealing with a range of domestic issues including education, the economy and jobs. The survey finds some specific domestic priorities of greater importance to the public in 2006. Compared with a year ago, significantly more people say that dealing with the nation's energy problems (up 11 points), reducing crime (nine points) and protecting the environment (eight points) should rate as top policy priorities for President Bush and Congress.