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Democrats rank better schools as top priority in new poll; GOP says fighting terrorism is Job No. 1

Democrats rank better schools as top priority in new poll; GOP says fighting terrorism is Job No. 1
President Obama arrives to speak to mayors from around the country gathered at the White House on Jan. 21. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Americans are split sharply this election year over what the government's top priorities should be, with Democrats most likely to say better schools, while Republicans give top rank to combating terrorism.

On some issues, large majorities on both sides agree, according to a new poll. Both Democrats and Republicans list improving the economy as among their top priorities.

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And Democrats do list fighting terrorism as a top priority, although not as overwhelmingly as Republicans do.

But the priority list -- part of a survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center -- is most notable for the partisan divergences.

Among the priorities most often listed by Democratic respondents, in addition to improving education, were bettering the job situation, reducing the cost of healthcare and making the Medicare system sound.

Among Republicans, top priorities included strengthening the military, cutting the budget deficit and dealing with immigration, the poll found.

Strengthening the military was cited as a top priority by three-quarters of Republicans, but only one-third of Democrats.

Similarly, two-thirds of Republicans, but only about four in 10 Democrats, cited immigration as a top priority.

On the other end of the scale, about six in 10 Democrats, but only slightly more than one in 10 Republicans, listed gun policy as a top priority.

The poll found a similar divide on climate change and protecting the environment, both cited as top priorities by large majorities of Democrats but few Republicans.

The percentage of respondents listing the budget deficit as a top priority has declined almost as steeply as the deficit itself.

In 2013, about seven in 10 Americans listed reducing the deficit as a top priority; today just over half do.

The annual deficit was over $1 trillion in fiscal year 2012; it is now about $470 billion although the deficit is expected to rise somewhat in coming years.

Improving the job situation has also declined as a priority as the unemployment rate has dropped.

The survey also found President Obama's job approval holding steady, with 46% of respondents saying they approve of his job performance and 48% disapproving.

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By contrast with his recent predecessors, Obama's approval rating has changed very little over his second term.

George W. Bush's approval rating dropped steadily during his second term and was at 31% at this point in his presidency.

Ronald Reagan's approval rating, 50%, was just slightly higher than Obama's at this point, but it rose sharply during his final year in office.

Bill Clinton's job approval was at 56% going into his final year and rose somewhat higher in his last 12 months.

The Pew poll was conducted Jan. 7-14 among 2,009 Americans aged 18 or older. It has a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points.

For more on politics and policy, follow @DavidLauter

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