By Adam Pritzker & Daniel Squadron
As the last days of the 2022 midterms elections come into clearer focus, candidates in close contests are beginning their final push, aiming to capture as many votes as possible in the limited time remaining in races with razor-thin margins.
The careful calibration of a campaign’s closing argument is often equal parts art and science — and that process is always marked by big questions. How is the electorate feeling at this pivotal moment? What should the candidate hammer home during this last stretch of the race in hopes of winning their hearts and minds? What issues do voters want to hear more about before they head to the ballot box?
First, all these questions have slightly different answers in each unique state or district – and we would certainly advise all prospective public officials to get out, listen to their constituents and focus on local issues, but that advice relates to a broader reality. A recent survey conducted by The States Project and Data for Progress reveals that — even in an evolving environment that feels more volatile than ever before — a core tenet of traditional political gravity still holds true: voters want their elected leaders to prioritize the issues that most consistently and directly impact their daily lives.
That may not sound like rocket science, but in a time when some campaigns seem content to constantly chase the latest topic du jour spawned by our insatiable, social media-soaked news cycle, this time-worn tenet may be more difficult to master than it appears at first blush.
It’s the economy (and gun violence and healthcare and schools), stupid!
So what are those issues that are top-of-mind for voters with Election Day just a week away? Well, it’s a little more complicated than just saying “It’s the economy, stupid!” for the millionth time. To be sure, as many other polls have found, inflation and rising prices are the most pressing concern for voters from all walks of life. When asked to select the three issues that are most important for local representatives to achieve in their state and community, 45% of our survey’s respondents selected “reducing the cost of living in my community” — making it by far the most pressing issue, with a double-digit gap to the second most common selection.
But as pressing as concerns about inflation are, that’s not the only issue on voters’ minds. In fact, respondents consistently cited a handful of issues as being particularly important to their communities. One-third of respondents (33%) said that “ensuring my community is safe from gun violence” was among their top three issues, placing it second overall — while 30% included “ensuring that families in my community have access to quality, affordable healthcare” among their priorities, placing it third. “Ensuring that children in my community have access to quality public education” (26%) and “ensuring that every vote will be counted and the will of the people will be followed in my state” (26%) rounded out the top five.
Voters’ personal experience dictates their political priorities
While this might seem like a somewhat random grab-bag of issues, there’s actually one common throughline: each has already touched Americans’ day-to-day lives in a meaningful way. Think about it. Seeing the costs of food, fuel and other essentials rise before your eyes at the register and as you balance your bank account every month. Feeling personally afraid for yourself or your loved ones in public amidst persistent news of gun violence in schools and other public spaces. Grappling with expensive health insurance premiums or copays when you go to pick up a prescription. And seeing your child or grandkid struggle in school in a way they never did before due to disruptions from a once-in-a-century pandemic. Virtually every American has personally (and in many cases, painfully) experienced these challenges over the past few years — so it should come as no surprise that those experiences are shaping their priorities as they head to the voting booth.
Even the one top issue that seems more to be more about a prospective concern than lived experience — “ensuring that every vote will be counted and the will of the people will be followed in my state” — is actually very concrete for those who listed it: 37% of Republicans voters cited it as a top issue, placing it second overall among that group, nearly double the percentage of Democrats who listed it. Given that a massive 75% of Republican respondents reported that they lack confidence that the 2020 presidential election was freely and fairly decided, it’s easy to see how those voters think this is a pressing issue — because they obviously believe (incorrectly) that they’ve already lived through it.
While the alarm is being urgently and justifiably raised by Democratic elected officials in DC, anti-MAGA pundits on the airwaves – and us! – most everyday Democrats or independents possess confidence in recent election outcomes. For them, challenges to the integrity of our elections are more theoretical in nature — despite the fact that threats to our democracy have never been more real or urgent. To put it simply, an issue isn’t real in politics until it is experienced in people’s lives.
Democrats have a compelling case to make on voters’ top issues – their lived experience
This truism provides a clear roadmap for candidates looking to make a strong closing argument to their voters. And most interestingly given the tenor of recent news coverage on the state of play, it may actually reveal that Democratic candidates have a compelling case to make — and in some instances, even an outright advantage — on many of the issues that matter most in 2022.
In fact, our survey finds Democrats either tied or leading as the party more likely to have the better plan for addressing the five top issues discussed above. This ranges from a tie on election security (largely split along partisan lines) to a gaping 13-point advantage on healthcare. Even when asked which party is best positioned to address the rising cost of living, an issue that has seemingly bedeviled Democrats all cycle long, respondents opted for Democrats over Republicans by a tight 42%-41% margin.
These advantages suggest a big opportunity for Democratic candidates to seize in the final days on this campaign. In what has been framed in the media as a binary contest of dueling “inflation vs. abortion” messages, it’s actually about whether Democrats can focus voters on the the wider selection of issues that personally impact their lives on a daily basis — and remind them that on these issues, Democrats have real solutions aligned with most voters’ values.
From October 7 to 9, 2022, Data for Progress conducted a survey of 1,230 likely voters nationally using web panel respondents. The sample was weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, gender, education, race, geography, and voting history. The survey was conducted in English. The margin of error is ±3 percentage points.