Biden and Trump Voters Have Different Concerns – Outside the Beltway

Biden and Trump Voters Have Different Concerns

After ‘the economy,’ the two diverge wildly on their top priorities.


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Kevin Drum constructs two graphs from a recent Emerson College poll. First, this:

From which he concludes:

Trump supporters literally care about only two things: immigration and the economy. Every other issue is background noise. By contrast, here are Biden supporters:

And assesses:

The economy is #1 again—I think there’s a national law that the economy always has to be #1—but after that there’s a much more normal distribution. Democracy, abortion, health care, and immigration all rank higher than the #3 issue from Trump supporters.

Aside from the economy, then—which is always with us—it appears that Republicans are essentially single-issue voters on immigration these days.

Looking at the poll’s crosstabs, I can’t figure out exactly how Drum arrived at those numbers (I can’t find either a 39.1 or 30.1 anywhere in the Economy column), but I have no reason to doubt his good faith and trust his data analytics over mine.

It’s noteworthy that Emerson supplied the categories and that answering “Other” required the respondent to specify. So, for example, “Wokeness” and “LGBTQ issues” weren’t options, so didn’t register. Also, for clarity, Economy has “jobs, inflation, taxes” in parentheses and democracy is actually “Threats to democracy.”

Regardless, I come to a slightly different conclusion than Drum from the charts: partisans of both sides profess to care about the issues their party’s opinion-makers have told them to care about.

So, yes, the economy is far and away the biggest issue for supporters of both parties because the economy has been the main focus of our political conversation since the peak of the COVID pandemic. Since the overwhelming perception is that the economy is in bad shape, it’s not surprising that opinion leaders of the out party (the Republicans) are hammering it more and that their partisans cite it at a higher level. Indeed, my reading of the crosstabs has it as the top issue for 45.9% of Trump supporters versus 29.3% of Biden supporters.*

Trump and the Fox News crowd have been banging on Biden’s failed border policies from pretty much Day 1. It’s not shocking, then, that Trump supporters see it as the biggest non-economic issue. (Drum’s 36.6% or my 28.3%.)

Biden and his opinion leaders have, going back at least to the Capitol Riots, focused on Trump as a threat to democracy. It’s the subject of just about every Biden speech. He even hits the issue at a subtle level in nonpartisan events like the West Point graduation address. So, it’s not at all surprising that his supporters cite that as a huge issue (Drum’s 16.6% or the 22.5% I’m seeing). Republicans, of course, see Biden stealing the election again** as an issue but at a much lower level (Drum’s 3.7% or my 4.3%).

Of the other issues presented as options, the only one that Trump/Fox has emphasized at all is crime. So, it’s coming in at a distant third. (Drum’s 6.9% and my 5.5%.) Indeed, healthcare (which I hardly hear either party talking about this cycle) is the only one that outpaces the Other category that required respondents to come up with their own issue.

For Biden supporters, though, abortion is also a big issue. The Dobbs decision and subsequent efforts in red states to make abortion illegal or much harder to get has made the issue a lightning rod. I’m actually surprised that it’s only third (whether Drum’s 13.9% or my 10.2%). I’d think it would be the top issue for young Democratic women.*** For Republicans, by contrast, Dobbs took what was previously a major animating issue off the board; they’ve won.

The only other issue that gets considerable salience among Biden supporters is healthcare. Since I haven’t seen that issue emphasized at all this cycle, I expect that it has to do with circumstance rather than partisanship. That is, it’s probably a bigger concern for urban voters than rural voters, despite access being harder to get in the latter.


*The Combined Presidential Vote, created by forcing undecideds to choose between Biden and Trump, strikes me as the most useful, so I’ll use that throughout.

**No, the election wasn’t stolen. But that’s the mantra Trump and his ilk have been pushing since the fall of 2020.

***Actually, it could well be. If there’s a way to break the crosstabs down to that level in the Google Doc, I don’t know it.


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