An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll taken in December shows that more than 60% of respondents have little or no confidence that the federal government can solve the major problems facing the country in 2016.
This bodes well for Republicans, who generally support reducing the power of Washington and looking to state and local government to address problems.
Terrorism edged health care as the issue most often mentioned - each by about one-third of those questioned - when people were asked to volunteer the issues they believe Washington should address this election year.
The polling suggests an electorate more focused on the economy and domestic affairs than on foreign policy. Two-thirds of respondents included an economic issue on their priority list, and about 4 in 5 named a domestic policy other than the economy.
In addition to those who mentioned terrorism, nearly half added another foreign policy matter, and immigration was the next most frequent topic raised.
The issues that come to the fore are not Democratic issues; they are Republican/conservative issues. Nowhere to be seen: abortion on demand, income inequality, or government takeover of health care. The fact that health care is still a big issue despite the passage and implementation of Obamacare should worry Democrats, as should the high standing of unemployment as an issue when the "official" rate is about 5%.
Perhaps most vexing for the dozen or so candidates vying to succeed President Barack Obama, the poll indicates widespread skepticism about the government's ability to solve problems, with no significant difference in the outlook between Republicans and Democrats.
"They can't even seem to get together and pass anything that's of any importance," said Doris Wagner, an 81-year-old Republican from Alabama who said she's "not at all confident" about seeing solutions in 2016. "It's so self-serving what they do," said Wagner, who called herself a small-government conservative.
In Texas, Democrat Lee Cato comes from a different political perspective but reached a similar conclusion. She allowed for "slight" confidence, but no more. The 71-year-old bemoaned a system of "lobbyists paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to get Congress to do what they want" for favored industry. "They aren't doing anything for you and me," she said.
Joe Flood, a GOP-leaning independent, said he sees government's inner-workings in his job as a federal contractor. A 49-year-old resident of the District of Columbia, Flood described the executive branch as a bureaucratic behemoth and the legislative branch as an endlessly partisan wrangle. "That's why government can't get anything done," he said.
Along with terrorism and health care, respondents were most likely to cite immigration (29 percent), education (25 percent) and unemployment (24 percent) as priorities.
Democrats and Republicans were about equally likely to mention unemployment, though there was a racial disparity. Almost half of black respondents mentioned the issue, compared with only a one-fifth of whites.
A predictable partisan divide was apparent in other issues.
It's still nearly 11 months to go until the vote actually takes place. But I suspect that these GOP issues will, if anything, become more important nationally than any issue the Democrats are currently running on. The advantage on issues doesn't necessarily translate into votes, but it's a very good start and is something Republicans can build on.