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FiveThirtyEight Out with Another Survey on What Issues Matter to Americans

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Almost a month ago, FiveThirtyEight released an analysis survey of 2,006 Americans they had polled about what the issue was that mattered to them most, which I covered at the time. Not surprisingly, inflation was the topic pick, as 52 percent of overall respondents chose this issue, which included a majority of Republicans and Independents and a plurality of Democrats. The next issue behind that one wasn't even close, with 29 percent choosing "political extremism or polarization." That first round--and there are to be many between now and the November midterm elections--was conducted April 27-May 5, right in the middle of when someone leaked a draft opinion indicating that the U.S. Supreme Court looked to use Dobbs v. Jackson to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Since then, quite a lot has happened in the news to impact the next survey's results. 

On Thursday morning, FiveThirtyEight published findings of another survey they did with Ipsos, which was conducted May 26-June 6. This time, 1,691 adults responded. 

Once more, respondents were asked what their top issue is, being able to choose up to three. And, once more, a majority chose "inflation or increasing costs." In fact, it went up from 52 percent to 56 percent among overall adults.

That wasn't the take-away the surveys write-up for FiveThirtyEight went with, though. Instead, Geoffrey Skelley and Holly Fuong's headline read that "Over 40 Percent Of Americans Now Rate Gun Violence As A Top Issue."

The concern that respondents had for "crime or gun violence" rose from the third overall most important issue, at 23 percent overall, to the second overall most important issue at 42 precent. "This was by far the largest increase for any one issue we asked about," the write-up noted.

Where there is a jump in how concerned respondents of all political parties, are, by far the largest is with Democrats. A majority, at 58 percent, listed this as their top issue. Democratic respondents were not as passionate about inflation last month, when only a plurality, at 43 percent, said it was. Demographics of the political party also plays a role.

From this month's write-up:

How concerned Americans were about crime and/or gun violence did vary quite a bit by party, though, as Democrats and independents drove much of the shift. A solid majority of Democrats, 58 percent, named the issue as a top concern, up from 33 percent in early May, while 41 percent of independents said the same, up from 19 percent. Republicans also became more worried about crime and/or gun violence, but the uptick was much smaller, going from 19 percent in May to 29 percent now.

We also found a sizable jump in the share of Black and Hispanic Americans who named crime and/or gun violence as one of the biggest issues for the country, which helps explain, in part, the higher degree of concern among Democrats, as Democrats are more racially and ethnically diverse than Republicans. The share of Hispanic Americans who cited the issue more than doubled, growing from 23 percent in May to 61 percent. To a lesser but still significant extent, the share of Black Americans who named gun violence or crime as a top issue also jumped, going from 35 percent in early May to 55 percent in our latest survey. White Americans were also more likely to be worried, but their overall level of concern was comparably lower: Thirty-five percent named the issue as a top worry, up from 19 percent a month ago.

It's also worth mentioning that the write-up acknowledges gun violence could be the concern in the here and now, and the media doesn't help it. 

Part of this dramatic shift can be explained by the sheer amount of media attention gun violence received in the days following the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. In fact, three-fourths of respondents reported having heard “a lot” about crime and/or gun violence in the news, more attention than any other issue we asked about received — even inflation (which around two-thirds said they had heard a lot about).

But, of course, as we said at the outset, this is often what happens in the wake of a high-profile mass shooting. As a result of heightened media coverage, there is an uptick in concern about gun violence and/or a lot more support for stricter gun laws. However, the spotlight tends to fade over time and shift to other issues, so Americans become less engaged with the issue and support for stricter gun laws reverts to where it once stood. We didn’t ask about support for stricter gun laws in this poll, but we do know that more Americans are worried about gun violence. Even before this survey, it was one of Americans’ top three issues, so we plan to follow up soon with a deeper dive to better understand what’s driving Americans’ concerns around gun violence and/or crime.

As the piece ends, Skelley and Fuong note that "But as we’ve outlined here, there’s no question that the big, topline finding in our second FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll is that more Americans are concerned about crime and/or gun violence — at least for now." The key word being "at least for now."

To Skelley and Fuong's credit, inflation is mentioned. Not only is it acknowledged, but it's acknowledged in the sense that despite this second poll being conducted fully after the draft opinion was leaked, abortion is still not that large an issue, even with its net change:

Nothing changed quite as much as Americans’ concern around crime and/or gun violence in our poll, but there were a handful of other important changes regarding which issues Americans felt were most pressing for the country. Abortion, for instance, saw the second-largest change on net, likely thanks to increased media coverage of the issue in early May following a leaked draft Supreme Court opinionthat suggests the court might be ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion in 1973. Nine percent of respondents in our survey named it as a top issue, up from just 4 percent a month ago. That said, abortion isn’t the issue that Americans in our poll are most worried about.

Rather, that distinction still belongs to inflation. Americans are most worried about inflation, with even more respondents (56 percent) naming it as a concern than in our last survey (52 percent). This was in large part driven by Republicans, as 75 percent cited inflation as a major concern, up from 65 percent a month ago. Independents were also somewhat more likely to name it as a concern, 56 percent now versus 50 percent in May. Roughly 40 percent of Democrats named inflation as a concern, but this barely changed from our previous survey.

It's worth stressing that not only did last month's FiveThirtyEigt/Ipsos specify that inflation was the top issue, but multiple other polls do as well. Further, Democratic strategists James Carville and Kevin Walling also acknowledged that while gun violence and abortion may affect some races, especially certain races where these issues may matter more, inflation and the economy will still be deciding factors. 

Right now, it's really not looking good for President Joe Biden on that front, and not just because historic trends show that the president's party almost always loses seats when it comes to his first midterm election. Biden's at a particularly low approval rating overall, at just 40.2 percent according to FiveThirtyEight, while he's at a 53.5 percent disapproval rating. RealClearPolitics (RCP) also judges approval ratings on specific issues, with Biden having a 34 percent approval rating and a 60 percent disapproval rating on the economy. 

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