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Democrats can sway voters on culture war topics like abortion and gun control

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The Democrats’ front lines continue to be brutal as November’s midterm elections approach: Voters are furious with inflation, they overwhelmingly believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, and President Biden is not is not at all a popular figure.

But based on recent polls, the matrix of issues has changed enough to give Democrats hope they can limit some of their potential losses and beat expectations, especially in statewide races. for the US Senate and the governorates.

In an ironic twist, these issues that give them a fighting chance are what would traditionally be seen as elements of the “culture wars” that Republicans previously saw as their winning talking points. But a wave of mass shootings and the landmark Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade propelled gun violence and abortion rights up the rankings in terms of importance to voters. These two issues now rank just below the most important issue for voters: inflation and stabilizing the economy.

“The 2022 election will depend on which party is able to show that it is taking meaningful action to stabilize the economy, reduce inflation costs (housing, gas and food), reduce gun violence and protect the women’s right to choose,” Joel Benenson and Neil Newhouse write in a summary of their new bipartisan research.

Benenson led polls for Barack Obama’s winning presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Newhouse faced him in 2012 as Mitt Romney’s lead pollster. Over the past year, they’ve partnered to do regular research for Center Forward, a centrist think tank.

In late July, they studied voters in 14 battleground states, compiling both a traditional dataset on all voters and then a 37-page examination of “unprivileged voters” in those states – that is- that is, people who do not vote in every election. .

Granted, Democrats have a huge hurdle to overcome on the economy. As most other polls have shown, voters are furious at runaway inflation. It’s by far the most emotional question in the country, with 46% of voters saying “stabilizing” the economy is one of the two most important issues right now.

Pollsters found that 44% of voters “strongly disapprove” of Biden’s performance, while only 19% “strongly approve” and, furthermore, only 44% of Democrats “strongly approve” of Biden’s accomplishments.

It’s an upside-down position heading into the midterms when Biden and the Democrats will depend on the motivation of die-hard supporters to get to the polls.

“The softer they endorse the president,” said Newhouse, co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, “the harder it is to chase them away.”

But their work also shows a growing interest among Democratic voters and many independents in gun control and the protection of abortion rights. It’s the kind of polling and research that confirms what happened Tuesday in Kansas, when voters in that otherwise very conservative state overwhelmingly approved of retaining abortion rights in the Kansas constitution. their state.

How Kansas became an abortion rights watchdog

Benenson and Newhouse found that on this same priority issue for voters, 26% chose “protecting a woman’s right” to access abortion as a top issue – essentially making border security the top priority. problem number 2, behind the economy. Just 9% of voters picked the anti-abortion stance as a top issue, giving Democrats a big advantage on that front.

Democratic voters in these battleground states now rank abortion rights as, by far, their most important political issue, selected by 45% as one of their two most important national issues. Perhaps more important to Democratic candidates, independent voters picked protecting abortion rights as their second most important issue (behind inflation/the economy), giving their candidates an opening to appeal. to these voters.

Benenson, the CEO of Benenson Strategy Group, thinks Democrats can successfully portray some GOP candidates as particularly extreme on the cultural issue of abortion, especially those who oppose exemptions for rape, incest and to save the family. mother’s life.

“When it comes to extremism, the Republicans have the biggest problem as a party, not the Democrats,” Benenson said in a joint interview with Newhouse on Tuesday afternoon, before the Kansas results were released.

Earlier, in their October surveys, Newhouse and Benenson had essentially foreshadowed the year’s disastrous elections in Virginia and New Jersey by noting how out of step the Democratic agenda and the interests of Democratic voters were with the independent voters.

In the fall, independent voters picked the inflationary economy and border security as their top two issues, with pandemic recovery as the third issue; Democratic voters picked climate change, taxing the wealthy and pandemic recovery as their top concerns.

The agenda at the time – a $2 trillion-plus package trying to reshape health care, tackle climate change, improve child care and other national issues – seemed too big, too vast for the intermediate voters who were worried about inflation.

“The conversation in Washington doesn’t match the conversation going on across the country,” Newhouse said at the time.

Now, Democrats seem better aligned with independent voters on their issues.

Beyond what should be top priorities, the polling duo also measured issues based on what will most motivate voters to choose candidates. The independents’ biggest motivators are, of course, fighting inflation and the economy, but their fourth and sixth most inspiring topics are tougher gun laws and protecting the right to abortion.

These last two issues have now risen to the top of the most motivating issues for Democrats, followed by inflation, while the perennial key issue for Liberals, climate change, has fallen to the bottom tier.

(The pandemic, for what it’s worth, is no longer about any electoral bloc. Democrats, independents and Republicans don’t rank it among their 10 most motivating issues.)

Smart Democrats, however, are careful not to overstate these conclusions, as inflation and worries about potential job losses in this faltering economy hugely dominate the mindset of voters on the battlefield.

If Biden and congressional Democrats can’t quell some of the inflation anger, voters are likely to ignore their calls on guns and abortion.

That’s why they tried to rename the slimmed-down version of their program “the Cut Inflation Act,” a compromise brokered with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and the centrist Meaning. Joe Manchin III (DW. Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona).

Its key elements include funding hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change, allowing Medicare to negotiate cheaper prescription drugs and strengthening health care markets – while raising corporate taxes to help reduce the deficit.

However, none of these measures will help slow inflation by the November election, leaving Democrats vulnerable to the vagaries of global energy markets and clogged supply chains.

And independent voters don’t see the details of the Cut Inflation Act as particularly important: Falling prescription drug prices rank ninth among motivating issues, according to Benenson and Newhouse, while climate change does not. not rank in the top 10.

How the Schumer-Manchin Climate Bill Could Affect You and Change America

Democrats are hoping this flurry of recent legislative productivity — including bipartisan majorities passing laws to help the semiconductor industry and to help veterans of overseas wars who are experiencing health issues — will please their base. liberal.

Those voters may not be able to salvage the House majority, which is being contested in outlying and exurban neighborhoods. But if liberals in nearby cities and suburbs show up in greater numbers than their current malaise suggests, the Democratic candidates for Senate and governor could receive key boosts from what was the GOP’s secret weapon: cultural issues.

As for unprivileged voters, pollsters found a particularly demoralized bloc. They love their country, but they consider the political system to be filled with candidates who do not represent their interests and consider that elections are often not worthwhile.

These voters lean toward Republicans, but they are so cynical about the system that they are unlikely to vote.

“Emotional barriers will be especially critical to overcome,” write Benenson and Newhouse.

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