When will terrorism supplant healthcare as a national issue? It already has

Last January we asked, "When will terrorism supplant healthcare as the most talked-about national issue?" The answer is now.

Less than a year later, in December 2015, terrorism skyrocketed to the top of the agenda for Americans.

When Becker's last wrote on the issue, Gallup data averaging 2014 opinions showed terrorism was tied for last on a list of issues keeping the American public up at night. At the same time, 10 percent of Americans were concerned about healthcare.

This caused us to ask, "Will people get bored with the debate and accept where healthcare is at? If so, that may lead the debate to other issues. How much terrorism has to occur for the debate to shift significantly?"

Unfortunately, it appears enough has occurred. As attacks hit American soil, and garner more attention in the media and presidential campaigns, other issues like healthcare fade into the background.

A Gallup poll conducted in the first week of December — shortly after the San Bernardino, Calif., attack that killed 14 people and a few weeks after the November Paris terrorist attack that killed 130 — found 1 in 6 Americans identify terrorism as the most important U.S. problem. That puts terrorism ahead of government (13 percent), the economy (9 percent) and guns (7 percent). Just 3 percent of respondents felt poor healthcare/ hospitals and the high cost of healthcare were top issues.

Though terrorism is undoubtedly an issue the U.S. cannot ignore, part of the attention terrorism is getting right now comes from a political agenda. Republican presidential candidates in particular are seizing on terrorism as a rhetorical tool to make Democrats look weak-willed. The polls reflect this division. According to Gallup's December poll, 24 percent of Republicans said terrorism was the top issue facing the U.S., compared to 9 percent of Democrats.

The fifth and last Republican debate of 2015 centered on foreign policy and national security. The terms "terrorism" and "terror" were mentioned 26 times and five times, respectively. Candidates said "health" just three times.

As discussion around terrorism builds, and unfortunately in some cases brings xenophobia forward, healthcare recedes from public discourse. Yet, it is certainly not because America is bored and ready to accept healthcare as it is today. Healthcare should also be making that top list of issues for Americans.

Between 2001 and 2013, there were 3,380 Americans killed by terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad, including the Sept. 11 attacks, according to CNN. Yet every single year, 611,105 Americans die from heart disease, 584,881 die from cancer and 149,205 die from chronic lower respiratory diseases. Having access — or not — to high quality, affordable healthcare will touch every single life in this country in a tangible way, for better or for worse.


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