Here Come the Midterms – Which Issues Are Most on Americans’ Minds?

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What are American voters worried about most as the 2022 congressional midterm elections approach? Here’s what the polls say.  

  1. The economy and inflation loom large 

As in most election years, the economy and the need to control inflation remain at the top of most voters’ wish lists. Gallup polls from September found this to be the case in answers to both open-ended and targeted questions asking respondents to discuss their top concerns. Approximately 80 percent of the American adults surveyed said they view the current economy as either “poor” or “only fair.” Some two-thirds think things in America are getting worse, economically speaking. 

Aside from an obvious low point in 2008, the Gallup Economic Confidence Index recently tanked to one of its lowest levels in the past three decades.  

Even so, about 70 percent of poll respondents think now is a good time to get a good job. That reading in itself is among the highest ever recorded for this particular question. 

So, with contradictions like these, even experts are having a hard time figuring out what Americans are hoping to see in terms of economic policy. 

The problem with inflation is that it’s felt far more acutely by working class people in this country. According to a Forbes article from July, the steep rise in the cost of food, housing, gas, and other basic needs is exacerbating the preexisting wealth gap, which was wide enough already. Working class Americans typically don’t own assets like stocks, real property, and other investments that can appreciate in value. Meanwhile, their salaries can’t keep up with the cost of living, and it becomes harder and harder to feed and house their families. 

Even those who are better off financially are feeling the pinch, with middle class households now looking at cutting back on travel and other discretionary spending.  

  1. Climate change versus immigration – it depends on who you ask 

But let’s not make the mistake of thinking the economy is the only issue on voters’ minds. Other recent surveys show about half of Americans noting climate change as among their most important concerns as they head to the midterms.  

Although it’s important to note that responses to questions about many non-economic issues depend on the respondent’s political persuasion, the fact that climate change has risen as a concern shows a greater sense of urgency overall. A lot of this is due to the undeniable extreme weather events seen across the country this year: devastating hurricanes, floods, soaring temperatures, and extended droughts.  

However, a series of mid-2022 surveys conducted by the statistical news organization Five Thirty-Eight found climate change and immigration to be among the issues that showed the greatest split between self-identified Democrats and Republicans. Among the former, 36 percent consider climate change among the most serious problems facing the country, while only about 5 percent of Republicans agree.  

Concerns about the way the country handles immigration rose to the top in almost exactly the same percentages, but in reverse: About 38 percent of Republicans and 6 percent of Democrats expressed immigration-related concerns.  

In this vein, it’s also interesting to note that the same surveys found more than 60 percent of respondents overall said they supported three specific proposals to combat climate change in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act: expanding the use of alternative energy sources, providing tax credits to companies that lower their emissions of carbon dioxide, and strengthening regulations designed to curb carbon emissions.  

It’s also noteworthy that, among Republicans, levels of concern about climate change in these polls tended to depend on how much personal experience respondents had with it. About 45 percent of Republicans who said they had personally been affected by extreme climate events over the previous five years expressed concerns about climate change.  

  1. Abortion drives voter registration among women 

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade in June, abortion for many Americans has become one of the most important issues. For many young women, it’s the most important.  

There’s been a surge of new voter registrations among women, particularly in battleground states like Arizona and Georgia, since the decision. This was also the case in deep-red Kansas, after a referendum rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have declared no right to an abortion. Some 70 percent of the newly registered voters in the state are women. 

  1. Making an issue of crime  

In an apparent effort to shift public focus away from abortion, Republican candidates have gone all-in on ads claiming Democrats are soft on crime. Some polls and pundits have found a corresponding surge in the number of voters who agree crime is a significant issue for the midterms. Others say there’s less interest despite the barrage of attack ads. Again, these results likely are influenced by the respondents being polled.  

An early October POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found about 75 percent of responding voters saying violent crime is a big problem in the U.S. But other surveys gauged less of a concern.  

  1. Is this the push we need for gun control? 

There does seem to be some nuance here, with 60 percent of the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll respondents saying gun policies would play a big part in their voting this year. More than 50 percent said the rise in crime statistics is due to “too many guns” available. And 62 percent said that they especially want to see legislation passed to reform the nation’s gun control laws. 

Republicans should be concerned about these figures. Let’s hope they hold up, and that we get a 118th Congress with the will and the courage to produce sensible legislation that will support a strong economy, keep all our communities safe, ensure action on climate change, and guarantee everyone’s right to make personal decisions for themselves and their bodies.  

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