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FiveThirtyEight Doubles Down on Democrats' Pet Issue for Latest Election Issues Survey

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

FiveThirtyEight has, for several weeks now, conducted surveys with Ipsos about what issues matter to Americans ahead of the upcoming midterms, now less than three months away. A handful of the surveys have been general, while some have focused on specific issues following current events. 

The second edition touched upon gun control after the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Another really hit hard on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade with its Dobbs v. Jackson decision. Now, FiveThirtyEight has returned to addressing gun control, phrased as "gun violence or crime," to compare and contrast how Democrats and Republicans regard the issue. 

While the issue came in third early on when the surveys were conducted, it has consistently come in second following the Uvalde shooting. 

It's worth emphasizing, especially since Geoffrey Skelley and Holly Fuong could do a better job doing so in their write-up for FiveThirty, that not only does "Inflation" beat out all other issues, but it has in every survey thus far. 

Here's what Skelley and Fuong do mention about inflation, with added emphasis: 

Only “inflation or increasing costs” has surpassed crime or gun violence in our poll,  undoubtedly because the country is dealing with the highest inflation since the early 1980s. But even before the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school, Americans ranked crime or gun violence as the third-most important issue facing the country.

...

Overall, though, crime or gun violence was an issue that Americans had seen a lot of in the news. Sixty-seven percent said they’d seen “a lot” of coverage in the past month, which was bested by only inflation (68 percent)...

...

Concerns around gun violence could be politically beneficial for Democrats, who along with independents are more likely to name it as a bigger concern than crime. After all, Democrats and independents (and even some Republicans) tend to back certain restrictions on gun purchases, and 3 in 5 Americans broadly said they’d prefer stricter gun laws. However, Republicans led Democrats on the generic ballot in our poll, which asks voters which party they’d back in the race for Congress, 40 percent to 38 percent among likely voters. This marked a very slight shift — within the margin of error — back in the GOP’s direction after Democrats took a 1-point lead a month ago. We’ve seen Democrats continue to gain in FiveThirtyEight’s generic ballot tracker, so this could be a blip, but it’s a reminder that with the larger concerns about the economy — especially inflation — it’s hard to imagine issues like gun violence and crime completely ameliorating the presidential party’s midterm penalty.

Also referenced in that concluding paragraph is that for all of the chatter about Democrats supposedly starting to fare better in the generic congressional poll, Republicans are not only still favored to at least win control of the House, but they are starting to do better again in the polls. That "gain" currently has Democrats with just a 0.2 percent advantage, at 44.2 percent to Republicans' 44 percent. It's worth reminding that in previous years, Republican performance during midterms was often underestimated

This write-up from Skelley and Fuong, highlighting gun control as an issue of importance, referenced: 

That said, not everyone in our survey is prioritizing the issue in the same way. Democrats are more likely to cite it as a problem than either independents or Republicans. In the latest wave of our survey, 44 percent of Democrats named it as a top issue for the country, compared with 31 percent of independents and 26 percent of Republicans. Moreover, Democrats have ranked it either first or second in every wave of our poll, while independents have placed it consistently in their top three issues and Republicans in their top six.

Part of what we’re seeing here is that different people fixate on different aspects of crime or gun violence. “Looting, stealing, trying to hack computers, always looking to take from others,” said a 77-year old man from New York who identified as a Republican and homed in on acts of thievery. Meanwhile, a 37-year old woman from Minnesota who identified as a Democrat focused more on gun violence. “I’m much more afraid of the mass shooting epidemic in this country than of any random acts of crime,” she said.

Respondents were asked to rank 12 words or phrases by how much they associated them with "gun violence" or "crime." The top three that respondents associated with "gun violence" included 70 percent saying "shooting," 53 percent saying "murder," and 40 percent saying "firearm." When it comes to associated words with "crime," 48 percent said "robbery," 45 percent said "murder," and 38 percent said "burglary." A close fourth and fifth included "shooting" at 37 percent and "assault" at 35 percent. 

Even while crime is a major issue across the country, especially in particularly liberal cities with Soros-backed prosecutors, the survey reveals that "gun violence" appears to be considered a more pressing issue: 

In addition to asking respondents which words or phrases they associated with crime or gun violence, we also asked which of the two they thought was a bigger issue facing the country. Among those who named crime or gun violence as a top issue, 77 percent picked gun violence as the “bigger issue,” compared with only 21 percent who chose crime. This was also true among all respondents, although the gap was less lopsided: Fifty-five percent chose gun violence, and 34 percent named crime.

However, despite the greater concern over gun violence, independents were pretty split on how they viewed the issue, siding more with Democrats on the importance of gun violence as a major issue and more with Republicans on the question of how best to address crime.

When it comes to another Democratic pet issue, which last month's write-up from Skelley and Fuong tried to push particularly and embarrassingly hard, abortion has only ever come in at best as the third-highest issue, peaking at 19 percent. As it fell in the rankings of important issues for this month, Skelley and Fuong made no mention of it. 

This latest survey was conducted from July 21-August 1, 2022, with 1,538 respondents. 

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