Yet elections often come down to hard-to-predict margins. In Georgia, for example, the race for the Senate can be determined by people who split their tickets between parties. Nationally, a myriad of races can also be settled by where swing voters land or whether supporters come out to vote.
Over the weekend, Fox News released a new poll from its bipartisan polling arm assessing how Americans view issues that have emerged as central to the midterm cycle. What the poll shows is that, on the issues that Americans care about most, Republicans hold an advantage among swing voters.
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Before we get to that, we should point out an unusual question that Fox posed to survey respondents. We often talk about how voters perceive various issues as important to their vote. People are complicated; it is usually the case that we are worried or excited about more than one thing at a time. Fox therefore posed a more pointed version of the question: what, if any, is an issue for which a candidate’s position would be a deciding factor? In other words, what is the question on which a candidate must agree with you or lose your vote?
The most common answer was abortion, with around a fifth of voters identifying the issue as key to their vote choice. That included 19% Democrats and 27% suburban women, a voting bloc that helped Democrats win a midterm majority in 2018.
More striking, however, is the lack of agreement on market breakers. The economy was the second most identified issue, with just 14% of respondents saying candidates had to agree with them (broad as that category is). About 1 in 8 voters said there was no deal breaker.
Interestingly, crime is not seen as a top priority for many voters. Inflation (subsumed in “the economy”) is doing a little better, but still in the single digits. Partly, one might assume, because the candidates’ positions on inflation are fairly consistent: it should come down. It’s unclear what a disagreement with a candidate over inflation would even be. meanbeyond using it as shorthand for a candidate’s larger partisan group.
Fox’s poll also tackled inflation and crime in a different way, asking respondents how concerned they were about various issues. (Crime, I note, was billed as “higher crime rates nationwide,” not surprisingly.) The result is that we can get a good idea of which party has the advantage on the issues that matter most to Americans — the answer, again, being Republicans.
Here are the seven questions Fox pollsters asked about both level of concern and partisan advantage. Points higher in each graph indicate a higher level of expressed concern about the issue. Dots to the left of the center line indicate that the identified group (independents, suburban women, etc.) trusts Democrats more on the net; points on the right give the advantage to the Republicans.
If we start at the top left, you can see that there is a rough correlation between worry and confidence in the GOP’s ability to respond to worry. Imagine a diagonal line superimposed on the overall points of suburban independent women. It almost looks like this.
This is the trendline only for the overall response, but it reflects the larger pattern.
The other graphs in the large image above are ranked by overall concern. Inflation is the issue about which Americans express the most concern; most Americans (including swing groups) are more likely to say the GOP would do a better job of handling the problem. Republicans are also much more likely to express concern about inflation than Democrats, consistent with a trend in which the party that has an overall advantage on an issue is more likely to express concern about it. (It’s likely an amalgamation of interest in the topic, which drives greater awareness among voters and gives more prominence to the things their party is better at.)
Democrats are seen by swing voters as better suited to address the country’s political divide and — the deal breaker issue — abortion. The party advantage among suburban women on abortion is about 17 points; it is safe to assume that there is a great deal of overlap between this group and those who view abortion as a deal breaker. (Of those suburban women identifying it as a deal breaker, they were much more likely to say they held a pro-choice stance than an anti-abortion stance.) Republicans, however, have advantages in two figures on inflation and crime, which 9 in 10 and 8 in 10 Americans (respectively) say they are worried about.
Again, many Americans know very well why they are going to the polls this year and what they want to see in a candidate. There are plenty of Democrats and Republicans who view the choice as clear-cut and near-existential. There are also many people who pay relatively little attention and make up their minds in the run up to elections based on their perception of the country’s problems and the culpability of the incumbents or the incumbent party.
In many places, these voters will decide the outcome of an election.