Economic issues remain a top concern for most voters ahead of the 2022 election, a review of recent polling finds, with many also worried about America’s democratic process itself. But voters’ highest priorities are divided along partisan lines, with abortion rights continuing to resonate strongly for Democrats, while Republicans remain sharply focused on inflation. Concerns about other issues, from gun policy to immigration, are often similarly polarized. And some topics that drew attention in previous elections – like the coronavirus pandemic – are relatively muted this year.
Recent polling provides a good general sense of which issues have become the focal points of this year’s elections, and for whom. But what voters truly consider important, and how those concerns influence their decisions, is too complicated to be fully captured in a single poll question.
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As we’ve noted previously, voters tend to say they care about a lot of different issues. That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean any of those issues will be decisive in a specific race, either by motivating people to vote when they wouldn’t have otherwise, or by convincing them to vote for a different candidate than they would have otherwise.
In practice, few campaigns revolve around a single issue, with voters left to weigh the merits of entire platforms. In a recent NBC News poll, for instance, voters were close to evenly split on whether they placed more importance on “a candidate’s position on crime, the situation at the border, and addressing the cost of living by cutting government spending,” or on “a candidate’s position on abortion, threats to democracy and voting, and addressing the cost of living by raising taxes on corporations.”
And in some cases, voters’ primary focus may not be on the issues at all. In CNN’s recent polls of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, a majority of likely voters in both states said that candidates’ character or party control of the Senate played more of a role in their decision-making than did issue positions.
Here’s a recap of what the polls are showing now.
CNN’s most recent polls have examined voters’ priorities from two different angles. A survey conducted in September and early October asked voters to rate a series of different issues on a scale from “extremely important” to “not that important,” while a second survey conducted in late October asked them to select a single top priority. On both measures, the economy emerged as a top concern.
In the first poll, nine in 10 registered voters said they considered the economy at least very important to their vote for Congress, with 59% calling it extremely important. And in the second poll, 51% of likely voters said the economy and inflation would be most important to them in their congressional vote, far outpacing any other issue.
While economic concerns rank highly among both parties, the CNN surveys found a pronounced partisan divide. Among registered voters in the first poll, 75% of Republicans called the economy extremely important to their vote, compared with about half of independents (51%) and Democrats (50%). And in the second, 71% of Republican likely voters called the economy and inflation their top issue, while 53% of independents and 27% of Democrats said the same.
The Republican Party also holds an advantage on economic issues. In a Fox News poll, voters said by a 13-point margin that the GOP would do a better job than the Democratic Party of handling inflation and higher prices. And in a mid-October CBS News/YouGov poll, voters were nine points likelier to say that GOP control of Congress would help the economy than to say it would hurt. Voters also said, by a 19-point margin, that Democratic economic policies during the last two years in Congress have hurt, rather than helped.
At the same time, voters express concerns beyond pocketbook issues. In that CBS News/YouGov survey, 85% of likely voters said that their “personal rights and freedoms” will be very important in their 2022 vote, while a smaller 68% said the same of their “own household’s finances.”
Following the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, abortion has taken far higher precedence in this midterm than in recent past elections, particularly among Democrats.
In CNN’s September/October poll, nearly three-quarters (72%) of registered voters called abortion at least very important to their vote, with 52% calling it extremely important. The share of voters calling abortion extremely important to their vote varied along both partisan and gender lines: 72% of Democratic women, 54% of independent women and 53% of Republican women rated it that highly, compared with fewer than half of men of any partisan affiliation.
And in CNN’s latest poll, 15% of likely voters called abortion their top issue, placing it second – by some distance – to economic concerns. Democratic voters were about split between the two issues, with 27% prioritizing the economy and inflation, and 29% placing more importance on abortion.
Abortion policy does stand out in some surveys as particularly likely to serve as a litmus test. In the Fox News poll, 21% of voters named abortion or women’s rights as an issue “so important to them that they must agree with a candidate on it, or they will NOT vote for them,” outpacing issues including the economy and immigration, and far greater than the 7% who named abortion when asked the same question in a 2019 survey.
To the extent that abortion serves as a voting issue, it’s more of a factor for abortion rights supporters – something that was not necessarily the case in the past. In the mid-October CBS News/YouGov poll, just 17% of likely voters say they view their congressional vote this year as a vote to oppose abortion rights, while 45% say it’s in support of abortion rights, with the rest saying abortion is not a factor. In a recent AP-NORC survey, the Democrats hold a 23-point lead over Republicans on trust to handle abortion policy, their best showing across a range of issues; in a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, the Democrats lead by 12 points.
Immigration’s role as an electoral issue has grown increasingly polarized. In CNN’s September/October poll, 44% of registered voters called immigration extremely important, on par with concerns ahead of the 2018 midterms. But Republican voters were 35 percentage points likelier than Democratic voters to call immigration extremely important, up from a 17-point gap four years ago.
That partisan dynamic also plays out in which party is more trusted to handle immigration-related topics: In the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, voters say by a 14-point margin that the GOP would do a better job than the Democratic Party on dealing with immigration. In the Fox poll, voters say by a 21-point margin that they trust the GOP over the Democrats to handle border security, making it by far the Republicans’ strongest issue by that metric.
But with Republicans overwhelmingly focused on the economy, immigration isn’t at the forefront of many voters’ minds this year. In the latest CNN poll, just 9% of Republican voters and 4% of Democratic voters called it their top issue.
Voting, elections and democracy
This year also finds voters concerned about the electoral process. An 85% majority of registered voters in CNN’s September/October poll called “voting rights and election integrity” at least very important to their vote, with 61% calling those topics extremely important. Both 70% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans said the issue was extremely important, in comparison with a smaller 47% of independents. Seven in 10 registered voters in a Pew Research survey out in October said that “the future of democracy in the country” will be very important to their vote this year, with 58% saying the same about “policies about how elections and voting work in the country” – in each case, that included a majority of both voters supporting Democratic candidates and those supporting Republicans.
But levels of concern can vary depending on how the issue is framed. In the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 28% of registered voters, including 42% of Democrats, picked “preserving democracy” as the issue that’s top of mind for them in this election. In CNN’s latest poll, just 9% of likely voters, including 15% of Democrats, called “voting rights and election integrity” their top issue.
The driving factors behind voters’ worries also vary significantly. In the Fox News poll, 37% of voters said they were extremely concerned about candidates and their supporters not accepting election results, while 32% were extremely concerned about voter fraud. In an October New York Times/Siena poll, about three-quarters (74%) of likely voters said they believed American democracy was currently under threat, but in a follow-up questioning asking them to summarize the threat they were envisioning, they diverged. Some cited specific politicians, most notably former President Donald Trump (10%) or President Joe Biden (6%), while others offered broad concerns about corruption or the government as a whole (13%).
In CNN’s September/October poll, 43% of registered voters said that the phrase “working to protect democracy” better described the Democratic congressional candidates in their area, while 36% thought it better fit their local Republican candidates. In the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, voters said, 44% to 37%, that the Democratic Party would do a better job than the Republican Party of “dealing with preserving democracy.”
Crime and guns
Most voters in this year’s elections express concerns about guns and violent crime, but relatively few voters call either their top issue. There’s also a notable partisan divide depending on the framing, with Republicans more concerned about crime, and Democrats more attentive to gun policy.
In a late October CBS News/YouGov poll, 65% of likely voters said crime would be very important to their vote, and 62% said gun policy would be very important. An 85% majority of Republican likely voters, compared with 47% of Democratic likely voters, called crime very important. By contrast, while 74% of Democratic likely voters called gun policy very important, a smaller 53% of Republican likely voters said the same.
According to Gallup, voters’ prioritization of gun policy spiked this summer following a wave of high-profile mass shootings, before fading as a concern in the fall; the Pew Research Center polling found less significant changes in voters’ priorities over that time.
Neither issue is currently widespread as a top concern. In the latest CNN poll, 7% of likely voters called gun policy their top issue, and just 3% said the same of crime.
In an October Wall Street Journal poll, 43% of registered voters said they trusted Republicans in Congress more to handle reducing crime, compared with the 29% who said they trust Democrats in Congress. Voters who were instead asked about reducing “gun violence” gave Democrats a 7-point edge.
The polling also reveals a few issues that aren’t receiving similarly widespread public attention this year. Among them is coronavirus, which just 27% of likely voters in the latest CBS News/YouGov poll called very important to their vote, rising to 44% among Democrats. Despite this year’s major climate change legislation, that issue ranked last among the seven issues CNN asked about in the September/October poll, with only 38% of registered voters calling it extremely important to their vote – although the issue had far more resonance among Democrats (60% of whom called it extremely important) and voters younger than age 35 (46% of whom did). And relatively few in the electorate are substantially focused on the war in Ukraine: in Fox’s polling, just 34% of registered voters said they were extremely concerned about Russia’s invasion of the country.