Poll: Abortion and inflation collide as top issues in midterm elections

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (NPR) — Both major political parties are facing crosswinds heading into the 2022 midterms, with Democrats and many independents motivated by the issue of abortion, while Republicans have the advantage on the economy, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

President Biden is also seeing a marginal increase in his approval rating, going from 36% in July to 41% now, largely because of a 10-point jump with independents.

Democrats also have a marginal advantage when people were asked who they would vote for if the elections were held today – 48% said a Democrat, 44% said a Republican. But given that swing districts are in many right-leaning areas, Democrats usually need a fairly significant lead on the question.

The survey of 1,236 adults was conducted Aug. 29 through Sept. 1. It has a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points, meaning results could be 4 points higher or lower than what is shown. There are 1,151 registered voters surveyed with a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points.

Stephen Parlato of Boulder, Colo., holds a sign that reads "Hands Off Roe!!!" as abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington.
Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Heading in the 2022 midterm elections, abortion leads as the top issue for Democrats. For Republicans, it is inflation. For independents, inflation also tops and abortion ranks second.[Andrew Harnik | AP]

Inflation is the top issue overall for voters

Top of mind for voters when thinking about November’s elections overall is inflation, followed by abortion, according to the survey. That’s not surprising considering the economic landscape and how the Democratic base responded after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Overall, 30% identified inflation as their top issue, but that’s down 7 points from the last time the question was asked in July. That was followed by abortion at 22%, up 4 points since July.

A poll shows opinions on which topics are at top of mind for November's midterm election

For Democrats, abortion was the clear top issue (35%), followed by the Jan. 6 committee hearings (22%), health care (16%) and inflation (13%).

For Republicans, inflation was by far the top issue (40%), followed by immigration (22%), and abortion (10%). Nothing else received double digits.

For independents, inflation was also tops (37%), but abortion was second (22%) and health care after that (12%).

Even though inflation was the top issue for independents, 58% of them also said that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe has made them more likely to vote.

A poll shows percentage of people who say they are more likely to vote due to the Supreme Court's decision on Dobbs

So independents, who are so key in swing districts and purple states, are saying, yes, they are most concerned about inflation, but abortion rights are also a motivating issue. That makes for a tricky line for both parties to walk in how they try to appeal to the group.

Abortion continues to be a key motivator for Democrats, as three-quarters (77%) said the Supreme Court’s decision makes them more likely to vote, about the same as it was in the immediate aftermath of the June Dobbs ruling.

Democrats are making abortion a key focus in their elections, running millions of dollars worth of advertising on the issue in an effort to get their voters out to the polls.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to focus on inflation and the economy.

And with good reason:

  • They have a 39%-26% advantage over Democrats when people are asked who would be better at handling the economy. That includes a 40%-17% margin with independents.
  • 57%, including 63% of independents, said Biden’s policies have made the economy weaker, the worst mark of his presidency on the question; and
  • 62% said they think the country is in a recession.
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