If anyone had any doubts about the degree of hyperpartisanship in the United States, the latest United States Studies Centre research on public opinion in the United States fully captures the immense divisiveness engulfing the country.
The top four issues for Joe Biden voters: Decreasing gun violence. Dealing with climate change. Improving education. Protecting abortion rights.
The top four issues for Donald Trump voters: Reducing inflation. Dealing with immigration. Reducing crime. Improving education.
The top three Trump voter issues do not coincide with any of the top four Democratic voter priorities.
As we get closer to election day on November 8, the polling from the field is clear: It is the economy and its related issues – inflation, petrol prices, rising interest rates – that is the primary driver of all voters surveyed.
Bill Clinton’s mantra that he rode into the White House within 1992 – “It’s the economy stupid” – is also governing this midterm election. Clinton proved – and President Biden certainly understands from what he and President Obama suffered politically during the Great Recession more than a decade ago – that it is the president who is seen by most Americans as owning the economy and how it is performing. Obama lost 63 Democratic House seats in the 2010 midterms. The Fed delivered another interest rate hike to home owners and businesses one week before election day, and it will continue the hurt people are feeling today when they reach for their wallets.
Because the voters overall are telling us that reducing inflation and reducing crime are their two top concerns, we can trust the on-the-ground reporting from the campaigns as journalists and experts assay the races underway that the Republican campaigns for the House and Senate are effectively pushing these economy and culture war issue buttons.
The Democrats have been hoping that – after the Supreme Court decision striking down a woman’s constitutional right to access abortion services – the anger over that issue would drive a Democratic wave. It will absolutely be helpful in many races, especially for the Senate, where several extremist Republican candidates want to outlaw abortion altogether. But the USSC polling is clear: protecting abortion rights only ranks seventh as “very important” among all voters.
This is not only a terribly partisan time, it is a terribly discouraging time in terms of how Americans assess their own country, their democracy, and its future. Nearly two-thirds of Americans are “very concerned” with the way democracy is working – which means that to them, it is not working properly – 71 per cent are very concerned with Congress’ ability to do its job; 57 per cent very concerned with the lack of compromise between Democrats and Republicans; 70 per cent very concerned by misinformation. Half are fearful of potential political violence.
America’s voters are deeply troubled.
Two-thirds of both Biden and Trump voters are equally concerned about how democracy is working, and even more are concerned with the ability of Congress to do its job. But we can be certain that they hold this common view for different reasons. Biden voters fear the extremism presented by Trump and his base and his allies in Congress. Republican voters fear the woke political and social agenda of Democrats.
The American government is not working properly anymore, and the voters surveyed by USSC are reflecting this reality.
Joe Biden wanted to be the leader who would end this American divide and bring the country together. In his inaugural address in 2021, Biden said: “Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together. Uniting our people. And uniting our nation. I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the common foes we face. Anger, resentment, hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence. Disease, joblessness, hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things. Important things.”
The USSC polling reflects a strong view that Joe Biden has not succeeded in advancing national unity.
The polling also reveals little confidence that Biden or Trump can lift the country up and take it forward. Only 35 per cent of all American voters believe it would be good or very good if Biden won a second term. Only 40 per cent believe the same about Trump – a slightly bigger margin but still well under half the country.
The overall portrait presented in this research signals that America’s malaise will continue. If Republicans gain the House or Senate, Biden’s domestic legislative agenda will be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. If Republicans pass extremist bills, they will be met with a Biden veto. The rifts and doubts across America will deepen. Happy days are not here again.