President Barack Obama's inaugural speech was a call to arms on issues like gun control and climate change, but both topics get short shrift to the economy in the public's attention, according to a newly released Pew poll that highlights the president's challenge in channeling his lofty approval ratings and moving the national conversation beyond the economic issues that dominated his first term.
While some gun control proposals, including one to require universal background checks for gun sales, are overwhelmingly popular, just 37 percent of Americans say strengthening gun laws should be a top priority as Obama begins his second term, according to Pew.
Although several polls show a majority believe that climate change is real, dealing with global warming, at 28 percent, is perceived as the least pressing among 21 issues. Both are more than twice as popular among Democrats than Republicans, reflecting the challenge of building consensus across an intensely polarized electorate.
The nation's deficit, barely mentioned in the president's speech, but the focus of many Republicans leaders, commanded more attention -- 72 percent of Americans say reducing the budget deficit should be a priority, up from about half after Obama's first inauguration. Although Republicans were 17 points more likely than Democrats to say it was a major issue, it was named by solid majorities among both parties.
Politicization of the deficit is nothing new, as the Pew report notes, with the issue often championed by the party not in control of the White House:
For the last few years more Republicans than Democrats have rated reducing the deficit as a top policy priority, but this represents a reversal from the Bush administration, when Democrats typically viewed the deficit as a more important issue. ... By contrast, during the Clinton administration, more Republicans viewed deficit reduction as a top policy objective.
Broader economic issues -- strengthening the economy and improving the job situation -- remain at the forefront of most minds in both parties, with Republicans and Democrats nearly equally likely to list them as top issues. Other topics of general consensus: making Social Security fiscally sound, reforming the tax system, dealing with the nation's energy problem, global trade, terrorism and illegal immigration.
The Pew poll surveyed 1,502 Americans by telephone between Jan. 9 and Jan. 13, with a 2.9 margin of error.