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Telling Poll Reveals What Issues Americans Really Care About, and It's Not Even Close

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

On Tuesday, FiveThirtyEight released a poll showing the top issues that 2,006 Americans care about. The results pain a truly illuminating picture in showing how a majority of Americans still care most about the issue driving not just the news of the day, but the concerns of the day as well. That issue, of course, is inflation. 

A majority of overall respondents, at 52 percent, chose inflation as the most important issue facing the country. This included a majority of Independents and Republicans, at 50 percent and 65 percent, respectively. Even though it wasn't quite a majority of Democrats who chose inflation as their top issue, a plurality nevertheless did, at 43 percent.

The write-up from Geoffrey Skelley and Holly Fuong did note, though, that the prioritizing of issues could change among not just political party, but other demographics, such as race. Even still, it was not far behind when it comes to issues of importance:

...Inflation was the top issue for respondents of all age groups and for both men and women, too. Now, some Americans did find other issues more important, though. For instance, 43 percent of Black Americans listed “race and racism” as a top concern, while 37 percent named inflation.

But inflation in particular is casting a pall over the lives of Americans of all stripes. “At the end of the month, it’s harder to buy food and pay bills and keep the kids with clothes and sneakers on them,” a Hispanic 48-year old Democratic woman from New York told us. “No matter how much they raise wages, costs exceed them,” said a white 60-year old Republican woman from Pennsylvania. And as a 36-year old man of color from Arizona who identified as independent put it: “It is impacting my spending power and the future wealth of myself and generations that come after me, including my own children.” Moreover, with prices continuing to rise — inflation was 8.3 percent in April — these concerns aren’t likely to go away anytime soon.

The next highest overall issue was "political extremism or polarization" at 29 percent and the one after that was "crime or gun violence" and 23 percent. Respondents could choose up to three issues. 

The second highest issue deemed to be most important for Republicans, though, was immigration, at 35 percent, and "government budget and debt," at 28 percent. 

For Democrats, the the second highest answer to be deemed most important was the "crime or gun violence" at 33 percent, with "political extremism or polarization" coming in close behind at 32 percent.

Independents, after inflation, chose the "political extremism or polarization" as the next highest important issue, at 30 percent, though there's then a wide gap between that issue and the third highest issue of "crime or gun violence."

Some outliers include how 30 percent of Democrats said climate change was the most important issue, while just 16 percent of respondents overall said it was. Another was how 20 percent of Republicans chose "Election security or fraud" as their most important issue, while just 9 percent of respondents overall did. That just 3 percent of Democrats did, and that this is the only issue to do with voting, may suggest that Democratic voters are no longer fear mongering when it comes to the supposed danger of voting rights.

The Democrats have now selected abortion as the issue to fear monger on, it appears. It's worth noting that abortion is one of the least popular overall topics selected as the most important. Not only do just 4 percent of respondents overall choose this, but more Republicans selected this than Democrats, at 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively. 

Only unemployment, "other," natural disasters, and "none of these" were less popular. 

It's worth pointing out that this may be affected by how the poll was conducted April 27-May 5, smack in the middle of when someone leaked the draft opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, which showed the U.S. Supreme Court is looking to overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion on demand in all 50 states. 

That being said, some Democratic respondents who are supposedly concerned enough to consider abortion a top issue, could have weighed in to move the needle a bit, if it truly was that important.

As it turns out, this FiveThirtyEight poll isn't an outlier in that abortion still isn't considered to be the high level of importance that Democrats claim and are hoping for.

In an opinion piece for POLITICO on May 4, shortly after the outlet had reported on the leak, Sarah Isgur noted that "Abortion Might Not Be the Wedge Issue It Used to Be." As she mentioned in her piece:

On the other hand, we do see data showing certain voting demographics within the Democratic base — young people, Latinos and Black voters — increasingly dissatisfied with President Biden, which is presumed to hurt Democratic turnout in down-ballot races in the fall. And while a reversal on Roe might motivate some younger voters, Democrats may be wary of campaigning on an issue that could further put off some Latino and Black Democratic voters, who are already more conservative than white Democrats on many social issues, including abortion.

At the same time, abortion has become less salient as a political issue. There are fewer abortions in the US than there were when Roe was decided in 1973 — at a time when abortion was illegal in the majority of states. Perhaps this explains why abortion has been steadily falling on the list of issues that voters mention as being the most important issue facing the country while other cultural issues — most notably, immigration — have ticked up. In fact, abortion didn’t even register at 1percent in any of the last four Gallup issue polls.

While the respondents who are the subject of this piece are from one specific area of Phoenix, Arizona, they're voters who could help decide who controls the U.S. Senate, as Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) is up for re-election and could lose his seat. Further, these women are suburban moms, the very kind of women that Democrats are trying to court on the abortion issue.

"Suburban Phoenix is cautionary tale for Democrats hoping to galvanize voters on abortion," Tim Reid's headline read. 

As he mentioned in his piece:

Significantly, the interviewees were from a key swing demographic group - suburban mothers - who are hotly sought after by both Democrats and Republicans in elections.

The interviews, while not a large sample, provide a sobering reminder for Democrats that inflation - which has reached 40-year highs - remains the most pressing issue for most Americans, who are grappling with soaring food and fuel costs and have given Biden low marks in opinion polls for his economic policies.

...

Democrats said they hoped it would help to mobilize Democratic voters, especially women, in an election year where the party has struggled to counter the enthusiasm of Republicans, who are widely seen winning at least the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate.

...

Of the 21 women interviewed by Reuters, five said they were pro-life and Republican, while 16 said they were pro-choice. Just two of the 16 said the issue was the top priority for them when voting this November, while half of the 16 were undecided about who to vote for in the Senate race because of concerns about the economy. The other half said they would likely vote Democrat.

The NBC News poll released on Sunday shows that voters still favor Republicans. Like FiveThirtyEight, the poll indicated that respondents care most about inflation.

Even a CNN poll from earlier this month, after the draft was leaked, showed abortion isn't the issue Democrats want it to be. That was, in fact, the takeaway from the poll, according to a write-up from Jennifer Agiesta and Ariel Edwards-Levy. "CNN poll: The Supreme Court's draft opinion on Roe v. Wade hasn't shaken the midterm landscape," their updated headline reads.

Further, the abortion issue may actually hurt Democrats. For polling also shows that when voters are made aware that the Democratic Party's position is abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy without limits, they are not in support of such an extremist position. 

Marc Thiessen warned as much in a column for The Washington Post, as did Scott W. Rasmussen in an op-ed for The Federalist. 

There is more to come, and so time will tell if the importance of issues change. There are six polls coming out between now and Election Day, a little less than six months away from now. Ipsos is a partner in that poll, which will survey the same group of Americans. 

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