VIDEO: Pew Research Center President Alan Murray talks with the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib about President Obama’s State of the Union address and how it compares to the public’s priorities.

President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address to the nation on Tues., Feb. 12. A survey released ahead of his speech found that 43% of the public views the president’s address as about as important as past years’ addresses, and a third (32%) say Obama’s speech will be more important than those in past years. 

Here’s a roundup of Pew Research findings across 10 of the biggest public policy issues:

The Economy

  • The economy and jobs remain the public’s top two priorities for the White House and Congress.
  • 57% of Americans (and 74% of Republicans) say that President Obama won the battle over the “fiscal cliff.”
  • Americans took a dim view of the fiscal cliff deal, saying it would hurt: the economy (46%), people like themselves (52%), efforts to curb the deficit (44%).
  • Read more about Pew Research findings on the economy

Debt and Deficit

  • 72% of Americans now say reducing the deficit is a top priority, up from 53% in Jan. 2009, including 84% of Republicans, 67% of Democrats and 71% of independents.
  • Majorities of Americans oppose most deficit reduction measures, including reducing funding for education (77% disapprove), reducing transportation funding (67%) and reducing funding to help low-income people (58%).
  • There are wide partisan gaps on many debt reduction proposals, including reducing military defense spending (+35 points Democrats) and reducing funding to help low-income people (+29 points Republicans).
  • 74% say a combination of program cuts and tax increases is the best way to reduce the deficit.
  • Read more about Pew Research findings on the debt and deficit

The Middle Class

  • The median income for a middle-income, three-person household fell to $69,487 in 2010 from $72,956 in 2000 (in 2011 dollars.) Median net worth among the middle-income tier fell 28% to $93,150 in 2010 from $129,582 in 2000.
  • 85% of those in the middle class say it is more difficult today than a decade ago to maintain their standard of living.
  • The middle class blamed their difficulties on: Congress (62%), banks and financial institutions (54%) and large corporations (47%).
  • Middle-class adults say they are: Democrats (34%), Republicans (25%) and independents (35%); conservative (39%), moderate (35%) and liberal (22%).
  • Read more about Pew Research findings on the middle class

Gun Control

  • 51% of Americans say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 45% say it is more important to protect gun rights.
  • 47% say mass shootings reflect broader societal problems, 44% call them isolated acts of troubled individuals.
  • There is broad public support for background checks for private and gun show sales (85%) and laws preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns (80%).
  • There are large partisan divides on creating a federal database to track gun sales (35-point gap, Democrats favor), implementing a ban on assault-style weapons (25-point gap, Democrats favor) or having more teachers and school officials with guns in schools (33-point gap, Republicans favor).
  • Read more about Pew Research findings on gun control

U.S. Foreign Policy

  • 83% of Americans say that “we should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home,” up 10 points since 2002.
  • 40% say the U.S. relies on military strength too much to achieve its foreign policy goals, 44% say about the right amount and 10% say too little.
  • 63% say the U.S. should be less involved in Middle East leadership changes.
  • Americans largely approve of the use of drones to target extremists, unlike most other nations surveyed.
  • 71% say defending the nation from terrorism is a top priority.
  • 60% support withdrawing troops from Afghanistan “as soon as possible.”
  • Read more about Pew Research findings on foreign policy

U.S.-China Relations

  • Americans now favor getting tougher with China (49%) over strengthening relations (42%) when it comes to economic policy.
  • A median of 42% of countries now say China is the world’s leading economic power; 36% named the United States.
  • Americans are more concerned about China’s economic strength (59%) than about its military strength (28%).
  • 68% of Americans distrust China and 66% see it as a competitor.
  • Chinese views of the U.S. have also turned negative (48% unfavorable, 43% favorable).
  • Read more about Pew Research findings on U.S.-China relations

U.S.-Middle East Relations

  • 57% of Americans do not believe the changes in the Middle East will lead to lasting improvements for people living in the affected countries.
  • 63% of Americans say they want the U.S. less involved in Middle East leadership changes.
  • 63% of Americans say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria.
  • 50% of the public sympathizes more with Israel, 10% sympathize more with the Palestinians, 13% say neither side and 4% say both.
  • Read more about Pew Research findings on U.S.-Middle East relations


  • 39% of Americans say “dealing with illegal immigration” should be a top priority, ranking the issue 17th out of 21 issues.
  • 42% of Americans prioritize both enhanced border security and a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.
  • The total immigrant population has grown to 40.4 million in 2011, while unauthorized immigration declined to 11.1 million.
  • 36% of eligible Mexican immigrants have become natural U.S. citizens, half the rate of of legal immigrants from all other countries combined.
  • Net migration to the U.S. from Mexico fell to zero in 2011 and may have reversed.
  • Read more about Pew Research findings on immigration

Climate Change

  • 28% of Americans say global warming is a top priority, ranking the issue last on this year’s list of 21 policy priorities.
  • 67% of Americans believe there is solid evidence of global warming, including 91% of liberal Democrats and 43% of conservative Republicans.
  • 42% of Americans attribute global warming mostly to human activity, while 19% say it is mostly due to natural patterns.
  • Read more about Pew Research findings on climate change

Gay Marriage

  • 48% of Americans favor gay marriage and 43% oppose it.
  • Younger generations express higher levels of support (Millennials, 63%; Generation X, 52%), compared with older ones (Baby Boomers, 41%; Silent Generation, 33%).
  • The religiously unaffiliated express the highest levels of support (73%), while white evangelical Protestants express the lowest (19%).
  • Support varies widely by region and is strongest in New England (62%) and weakest in the South Central (35%).
  • Read more about Pew Research findings on gay marriage

Browse all of our State of the Union tip sheets: 

Economy | Middle Class | Gun Control | U.S.-China Relations | U.S.-Middle East Relations | Immigration | Climate Change | Gay Marriage | Debt and Deficit | U.S. Foreign Policy