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Is It Still The Economy, Stupid?


Besieged by a bevy of issues, will the state of the economy ultimately drive the outcomes of the midterm elections?

The U.S. economy contracted in both the first and second quarters of this year, and third quarter data will be out October 27, just 12 days before voters go to the polls for the 2022 midterm elections. For the third time this year, the Fed today increased interest rates by 75 basis points to combat the highest inflation the United States has seen in decades.


But that is not the only worrisome economic news.


The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down more than 3,000 points from last September, and Americans looking to fly home for the holidays can expect to pay about 31 percent more than before the pandemic for their airfare. (They are already paying more for groceries and other consumables.)


Normally these statistics would spell disaster for the political party in power in Washington. After all, six years after his 1992 White House reelection loss, President George H.W. Bush was still blaming the outcome of that presidential race on former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan’s decision to keep interest rates high even during the 1990-91 recession. (Also remember it was 1992 Bill Clinton adviser James Carville who said that election was all about “the economy, stupid.”)


So that begs the question: Is 2022 a normal political year in which the economy is the best predictor of what might happen at the polls this November? With a pandemic whose status even the president and his advisers cannot agree on, a landmark Supreme Court case, and an FBI raid on the home of a former president, is the economy even voters’ top concern? We will take a look this week.


The Economy Is On Voters’ Minds

It is an answer Democrats might not like. August and September polls indicate that voters are still very concerned about the economy.


According to Gallup, a plurality of voters, 35 percent, cite an economic issue like inflation or income inequality as the singular most important problem facing the country. Only three percent of voters think climate change is the top issue while eight percent say the same for reproductive rights.


In a poll released earlier this month, Gallup also found a majority of Americans, 56 percent, now claim inflation has caused financial hardship for their household. That number is up from 49 percent in January and 45 percent in November 2021, and it includes a majority of voters who describe the hardship they are experiencing as either moderate or severe.


Over the month of August, Politico and Harvard University asked 1,815 registered voters to identify which issues were “extremely important” to making their decision about how to vote in this year’s election. More than half, 51 percent, said inflation was an extremely important factor. Forty-nine percent of voters said the economy and jobs, 46 percent said guns, and 44 percent said reproductive rights.


A PBS/NPR survey found 30 percent of voters say inflation is the number one problem facing that nation. That number was down seven percentage points from earlier this year, but it still took the top spot. It was followed by:

  • Reproductive rights at 22 percent;

  • Healthcare at 13 percent;

  • Immigration and the investigation into the events of January 6, 2021 each at 9 percent;

  • Guns at 7 percent; and

  • Crime at 5 percent,


The worry about the economy and inflation takes the top ranking in battleground state polls as well. According to a YouGov survey from Pennsylvania, which has both an open gubernatorial election and a race for an open Senate seat on the ballot this November, 80 percent of voters say the economy is one of the top issues facing the country. That compares to:

  • 77 percent of voters say inflation is one of the top issues facing the country;

  • 65 percent of voters say crime is one of the top issues facing the country;

  • 61 percent of voters say guns are one of the top issues facing the country; and

  • 56 percent of voters say reproductive rights is one of the top issues facing the country.


Voters affiliated with the different parties obviously care about different things, of course, but the economy ranks highly whether a person is a Republican or Democrat.


A survey released last week by Long Island University’s Steven S. Hornstein Center for Policy, Polling, and Analysis found Republicans said the issues that mattered most in deciding how they will vote in November are: the economy (37 percent), national security (25 percent), immigration (12 percent), coronavirus (9 percent), and healthcare (6 percent). Democrats said the issues that mattered most to them are: the coronavirus (22 percent), the economy (20 percent), healthcare (18 percent), climate change (15 percent), and racial/gender equality (8 percent).


And how does current leadership stack up when it comes to economic issues?


According to a Siena College Research Institute/New York Times survey, Americans generally do not think President Joe Biden’s policies have done anything to help them economically. Forty-five percent think they are no better or worse off than they were before President Biden took office while 37 percent said the president’s policies have harmed them economically. Only 15 percent said the president’s policies have helped. That’s voters from all corners of the political spectrum.


In that poll, Republicans had a 52 percent to 38 percent advantage among voters when it comes to who they think is better equipped to manage the economy.


Voters’ Concerns About Other Issues Very Much At The Surface

While issues like climate change and reproductive rights are not cited by voters as the top issue facing the country, they do still animate Americans to get out to vote … and it appears they are getting more animated by the day.


According to an August 2022 Pew Research Center survey, for example, 56 percent of registered voters said the issue of reproductive rights will be very important in their midterm vote. That number is up from 43 percent in March, before the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The increase in urgency was seen entirely among Democrats, Pew said. Today 71 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters rate abortion access as very important. Only 46 percent made that claim in March. There has been no change in urgency among Republican voters, meanwhile.


The Siena College Research Institute poll that identified the economy as voters’ top concern also made it clear that voters are animated by other issues and feel strongly about them.


Voters are split on a significant issue that has been in the headlines: how to handle rising gun violence in the United States. By a narrow 49 percent to 46 percent margin, voters oppose a ban on semi-automatic weapons. When it comes to which party they trust on gun policy, 47 percent of voters said the Republican party while 43 percent said Democrats.


Republicans seems to have an advantage on other non-economic issues as well. For example, 49 percent of voters support building a wall along the United States-Mexico border and 47 percent of voters say they believe Republicans are more equipped to handle issues of crime and policing. That contrasts with the 37 percent of voters who said Democrats are more equipped.


Overall, the Siena/New York Times survey found 49 percent of respondents said that economic issues such as jobs, taxes or the cost of living were likely to determine their votes in November compared with 31 percent who saw societal issues such as reproductive rights, guns, or democracy as the most important factor behind their votes.


All to say: while there’s no shortage of issues that will motivate voters to head to the polls this November, the economy appears, as it typically does in election years, to be the primary issue on voters’ minds with just weeks left before the midterms.

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