Poll says economy, abortion rising in significance as midterm election issues

A new Monmouth University poll released Thursday shows abortion has spiked in importance as a midterm issue in 2022 compared to 2018.

The American public is divided as to which party they want in control of Congress, and the issue picture has shifted since the last midterm – with the economy and abortion replacing health care as the top electoral concern.

In the poll, 25 percent of respondents rated abortion as a top issue in Congress, putting it in second place only behind the economy. 

In 2018, only 9 percent believed abortion was a major concern for Congress and was one of the least important issues among voters. 

“Congressional party preference hasn’t moved a lot this year, but the issue picture may be coming into focus with the economy and abortion as the top considerations right now. The importance of abortion coincides with the Supreme Court leak, which means it is hard to tell whether we are seeing a temporary blip or something that will have a major impact in November,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The shift is found mostly among Democrats, according to the poll, with 48 percent saying it is important for a candidate to line up with their views on abortion compared to 31 percent in 2018.

Independents also saw a slight raise in the importance of abortion, while Republicans declined in seeing abortion as a major concern when voting for a candidate. 

Politico published a Supreme Court draft decision last week overturning Roe v. Wade, which has put abortion squarely at the center of the nation’s political discourse. A final decision is expected this summer.

The poll asked Americans to rate how six different policy areas factor into their congressional vote choice. On each of these six issues, at least 2 in 3 say it is very or extremely important to them that their chosen candidate shares their views. Looking at just those who rate these policies as extremely important finds a fairly even distribution among abortion (35%), immigration (33%), gun control (32%), economic policy (31%), and health care (30%). Tax policy (24%) is seen as extremely important by slightly fewer people than the other five areas. Compared to a Monmouth pre-election poll taken in August 2018, immigration, gun control and tax policy are nominally less important than they were in the last midterm. Abortion is a few points higher in extreme importance than 2018, while health care is significantly less important. Economic policy has seen no change.

The similar shifts in the importance of these policies for the entire population masks some larger partisan movements. For example, the drop in immigration policy’s importance since the last midterm is driven mainly by Democrats (23% extremely important, down from 37% in 2018) while the drop in health care policy’s importance is driven mainly by Republicans (18%, down from 37%). The importance of economic policy declined a few points among Republicans and Democrats but actually increased slightly among independents.

The importance of abortion policy in the current midterms compared with four years ago has shifted the most among Democrats. Nearly half (48%) of Democrats say a candidate’s alignment with their views on abortion is extremely important to their vote, which is up from 31% who said the same in 2018. Abortion’s importance is slightly higher among independents than it was four years ago (31%, compared with 27% in 2018). Among Republicans, however, there has actually been a decline in seeing abortion policy as an extremely important factor in their vote choice (29%, down from 36% in 2018). Of note, the importance of abortion in the congressional vote has gone up by six points among women (43% extremely important now) and by three points among men (27% now) since 2018.

When asked to choose the single most important issue from the six policy areas included in the poll, economic policy (26%) and abortion (25%) are the top concerns, followed by health care (16%) and immigration (14%). Fewer than 1 in 10 select either gun control (9%) or tax policy (8%) as their most important issue. Four years ago, health care was the top issue (28%), followed by economic policy (19%) and immigration (18%). Abortion policy (9%) was near the bottom of the list.

About 1 in 3 Democrats (32%) and 1 in 4 independents (26%) say agreeing with a candidate on abortion policy is the top consideration in their congressional vote. Four years ago, fewer than 1 in 10 in either group said the same. On the other hand, the number of Republicans who name abortion as their most important issue (17%) is about the same as in 2018. Among women, abortion as the most important midterm issue has increased from 10% to 30%, while among men it has increased from 9% to 19%.

“Many Democrats are clearly focused on abortion as a driving factor in the midterm elections. However, what is not clear from this one poll is whether this issue is actually motivating voters who would not otherwise come out to vote this year,” said Murray.

Turning to presidential politics, Biden currently receives a job rating of 38% approve and 57% disapprove. He held a 39% to 54% rating in Monmouth polls taken in January and March this year. Just 18% of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction, down from 24% two months ago.

Among typical household expenses most Americans pay, a majority (58%) say it is currently difficult for them to afford gas for their cars. Just over half also say it is difficult for them to pay grocery bills (52%), their tax bills (51%), and health care deductibles and out of pocket expenses (51%). Just under half say the same about health insurance premiums (48%) and fewer than 4 in 10 say making their mortgage or rent payment (37%) is difficult. A Monmouth poll from 2017 – the year before Democrats took control of the House of Representatives – found somewhat more people saying these expenses were easy to meet and fewer saying they were difficult, with the ease of buying groceries being the starkest change (62% easy in 2017 versus 47% easy in 2022).

Compared to this past December, the number of people who have experienced difficulty paying their grocery bill has increased by 10 points, health insurance premium difficulty has increased by 8 points, and tax payment difficulty is up 7 points. Out of pocket health expense difficulties are up slightly by 3 points and there has been no appreciable change in the difficulty of paying housing costs. [The gas price item was not asked in prior polls]. Of note, for the household expenses where difficulty has increased, the shifts have been larger among independents than among either Republicans or Democrats.

“The fact that more independents are feeling the pain is a warning sign for the party in power,” said Murray.

The poll was conducted between May 5 and May 9 among 807 U.S. adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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