WASHINGTON (AP) — High inflation and fears for the health of democracy weighed heavily on U.S. voters in a midterm election that cast a shadow from once – and perhaps future – rivals for the White House, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, as AP VoteCast shows.
The poll reveals a country in distress at a moment when control of Congress — and choosing between sharply contrasting visions of America — is at stake. Much of the country is mired in pessimism about America’s future and its political leadership, with ongoing tensions over how people feel about the current president and his predecessor, who is influencing decisions at the ballot box.
The detailed portrait of the American electorate is based on preliminary results from VoteCast, a comprehensive poll of more than 90,000 voters nationwide conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for The Associated Press.
About half of voters say inflation was a significant factor in their vote, as the cost of groceries, gasoline, housing, groceries and other expenses have skyrocketed over the past year, giving Republicans a means of criticizing Biden offers. The economy was an overarching concern of voters, with around 8 in 10 saying it is in bad shape as inflation, which has hit a near 40-year high, has sparked fears of a recession. Voters are divided over whether Biden’s policies caused higher prices or factors beyond his control, like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Slightly fewer voters – 44% – say the future of democracy was their main concern. During the election campaign, Biden warned that Republicans pose a threat to democracy. Many GOP leaders continue to cast doubt on the US electoral system, falsely claiming that the 2020 presidential election, which Trump lost, was rigged.
But the Make America Great Again, or MAGA, movement ignited by Trump appears to be gaining a stronger grip on Republicans. Nearly two-thirds of GOP voters say they support the MAGA movement, a sign of potential deadlock with Biden’s White House should Republicans win a House or Senate majority.
Republicans are counting on voter dissatisfaction with inflation, crime and immigration to help them take control of both houses of Congress. Biden and his Democrats have argued that the US middle class is poised for a renaissance because of its investments in infrastructure, computer chip manufacturing and clean energy projects.
Both parties’ voters consider inflation and the fate of democracy to be important. But Republicans tended to prioritize the economy as the most important factor in their vote, while Democrats tended to prioritize the future of democracy.
Voters are increasingly demoralized as the country’s political divisions have hardened. Around three quarters say the country is going in the wrong direction. That number is higher than the VoteCast voter poll in 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic was considered the top issue in the country; now only 2% of voters name it the top priority as other issues have taken center stage.
Biden’s election was partly due to a view that the pandemic had spiraled out of control under Trump’s leadership, VoteCast showed. A majority of voters said they thought he “cares about people like her”. A smaller percentage of 2022 voters say so.
Even Democrats have doubts about Biden, who has said he will seek re-election in 2024. Nearly a third of Democratic congressional nominee voters say Biden is not a strong leader. One in five Democrats say they lack the intellectual capacity to serve effectively as president. And about 3 in 10 disapprove of his economic leadership.
The 2020 presidential election is still hanging over these congressional, state and local elections. Nearly two-thirds of Democratic voters said they voted to show their opposition to Trump, while about 7 in 10 Republican voters said their votes were to defy Biden.
Inflation was a clear blow to the well-being of many Americans. A third of voters describe their families as financially behind. That is almost twice as much as two years ago.
About half of suburban voters supported Democrats nationally, down slightly from 2020 and 2018. Democrats still outperform women, while men tend to favor Republicans. Voters under 45 tend to favor Democrats; older voters generally lean toward Republicans.
Faced with headwinds for the economy, Biden and many Democratic candidates sought to capitalize on their base’s outrage after the Supreme Court overturned abortion protections in Roe v. Wade, repealed the 1973 decision granting abortion rights. Overall, 7 out of 10 voters say the verdict was an important factor in their mid-term decisions.
VoteCast also shows that the reversal was largely unpopular. About 6 in 10 say they are upset or dissatisfied with this, while about 4 in 10 were satisfied. And about 6 in 10 say they support legislation that would guarantee access to legal abortion nationwide.
Crime was also an important factor for most voters, with half saying the Biden administration has made the US less crime-proof.
Despite concerns about democracy, about 4 in 10 voters say they are “very” confident votes will be counted accurately in the midterm elections, an improvement over the percentage of 2020 voters who said so.
Many voters went into the election with deadlocked views. About half say they knew all along how they were going to vote, while a third made their choice throughout the campaign, and about 1 in 10 say they made their choice in the last few days.
AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for Fox News and The Associated Press. The poll of 93,406 voters was conducted for nine days and ended after polling closed. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The poll combines a random sample of registered voters drawn from state voter databases; self-identified registered voters using NORC’s AmeriSpeak probability-based panel, which is intended to be representative of the US population; and self-identified registered voters selected from online panels without probability. The range of sampling error for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 0.5 percentage points. For more details on the AP VoteCast methodology, visit https://ap.org/votecast.