In every poll that we have conducted for the Texas Politics Project (and The Texas Tribune ), we have asked respondents to name the most important problem facing the country and the most important problem facing Texas. For the first three polls that were conducted, these questions were open-ended -- meaning that respondents could write in their responses, which were then coded. Since June 2009, we have provided respondents with a long list of possible answers to both questions. In general, the items on the lists have been consistent, though we have occasionally added items that had recently emerged onto the national or state scene (e.g., the gulf oil spill or Texas's budget shortfall) and deleted items that had become irrelevant.
Results for both the national and state questions have been fairly consistent over time, though there have also been some significant changes. With respect to the most important problem facing the country, answer choices related to the economy or unemployment have always been the most popular. During the initial surveys in 2008 and early 2009, answer choices related to energy issues (gas prices, energy independence, etc.) as well as national security issues (the war in Iraq, terrorism, etc.) were also salient to our respondents, but they have since receded in importance. In their place, concerns about federal spending and the national debt, as well as about political corruption and leadership in Washington, have risen dramatically.
With respect to the most important problem facing Texas, answer choices related to the economy have also been very popular, but they have generally been equally popular to (and have at times been eclipsed by) answer choices related to immigration and border security. In recent surveys, the state's budget shortfall and education have also become frequently-chosen answers.