The most important election issue to Americans is the economy, as of mid-September. The war in Iraq, the price of gas, and health care are within a few percentage points of each other in the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, taken among voters between September 8 and 13.

56% of Americans identified the economy as the top presidential election issue. 25% voted for the Iraq war as issue #1, down from a high of 46% in March 2007. 21% identified health care as the top issue, and 19% said it was the price of gas.

Note that these interviews were completed one day before “Black Sunday,” 14 September, which preceded the past two weeks of financial market chaos, credit contraction, and just-in-time policy-making.

Health care as a political issue is a much higher priority for Democrats and Independents than for Republicans. It ranks last on the list of six issues for Republicans, following the economy, gas prices, Iraq, terrorism, and taxes. For Democrats, health care is the #3 issue after the economy and Iraq; for Independents, health care is #2, followed by Iraq and gas prices.

Across all party lines, however, problems paying for health care and health insurance have grown as a serious problem just since last month. In August, 24% of Americans said that problems paying for health care and insurance were a serious problem; this percentage grew to 30% in August 2008, a 25% increase in just one month.

Based on what Americans know about the candidates as of September 2008, they believe that Barack Obama’s health policies would be “better” for working families, children, the elderly, the uninsured and low-income people; and, John McCain’s policies would be “better” for health insurance companmies and employers.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: I suspect that if this survey were conducted this past week, that the Economy would be “uber” #1..with as many as 75% of Americans putting the Economy as the top presidential electoral issue. The past two weeks have impacted the proverbial “Main Street,” at all income levels. Retirement portfolios, 401(k) plans, and concerns about job losses due to the constrained credit markets is top-of-mind for Americans. Spurred on by 24×7 mass media coverage on the topic, from FoxNews to CNN and talk radio fodder, the electorate has been plagued with talk of “bailout,” and presented with images of Congressfolk politicking on this very real issue.

Congress’s financial “bailout” plan contains no provisions about health care. We are in silo mode right now when it comes to the credit contraction and liquidity crisis. But surely, health care is a mega-component of the economy, integral to our nation’s fiscal health — approaching 1 in 5 of our dwindling American dollars.

Elizabeth Edwards spoke about the relationship between health care and the larger economy last weekend when addressing a women’s health conference in New Jersey. Edwards connected the dots, talking about medical bills that often lead to foreclosure, a primary factor in the mortgage market that has led to the demise of several Wall Street firms. “Reform of our health care system is a very important part of the answers we’re going to need to solve our economic woes,” she said.