Has the American electorate turned the corner on 2020’s crises — and taken aim at their normal core focus? Almost thirty years ago, James Carville proved prophetic by telling Bill Clinton’s campaign team that “it’s the economy, stupid” when it comes to presidential elections. In a year that started out with impeachment and has featured a pandemic, an unprecedented shutdown and isolation, race-related riots, and crime spikes not seen in a generation, does that still hold true?
According to Gallup … yes. In a non-exclusive choice in their latest poll, 89% of voters chose the economy as the most important issue in the election. The response to coronavirus response came in third, double digits behind the economy:
As the nation remains in a pandemic-induced recession, U.S. registered voters say the economy is the most important issue of 16 that may potentially affect their choice for president. Nearly nine in 10 registered voters consider the presidential candidates’ positions on the economy “extremely” (44%) or “very” (45%) important to their vote.
At least three-quarters of voters consider six other issues to be important to their vote choice — terrorism and national security (83%), education (82%), healthcare (80%), crime (79%), the response to the coronavirus (77%), and race relations (76%).
Majorities of voters say eight of the nine remaining issues are extremely or very important. These include foreign affairs (74%), gun policy (68%), immigration (65%), the federal budget deficit (65%), relations with China (64%), abortion (61%), taxes (61%), and climate change (55%). Only one issue — relations with Russia — is viewed as important to less than a majority of voters (49%).
Bear in mind that Gallup allowed voters to choose multiple issues, and also choose the intensity of that importance, in this survey. All of these issues are important, both in a civic sense and in a popular sense, although it’s curious how far down the radar screen Russia has dropped. Democrats are still trying to flog Russia as a campaign issue, a leftover from the Mueller probe flop that still hasn’t quite registered with Democrats. Only 21% think Russia is “extremely important,” just under 23% for China, but 41% think the latter is still “very important.” Only 28% think that about Russia.
That same dynamic applies at the top of the scale, too. Only four points separate the top five issues for “extremely important,” but it’s the “very important” rating where the issues separate. Between the economy and coronavirus, there is an 11-point drop in this rating. Even more surprising, 18% of respondents said that coronavirus response was only “somewhat important,” while only 10% of respondents said that about the economy.
That largely holds up in the partisan demos, too. While there is a fairly wide divergence on the importance of the coronavirus response between Democrats and their leaners (93% “extremely” or “very important”) and Republicans and their leaners 61%), the gap is much smaller on the economy — 85% among Democrats and 93% among Republicans. Among Democrats and leaners, the COVID-19 response doesn’t rank first, either — overall health-care policy is more important (95%). Team Biden’s focus on climate change policy misses the mark, too; it only gets 55% for extremely/very important and the highest “not important” rating of all topics at 19% (46% low-priority overall). The partisan split is enormous here, 88/23, meaning that Biden and his campaign are singing to the choir.
What do these results mean in this election? Democrats are hammering on health care, but that only comes in fourth on the list. Joe Biden’s suggesting more shutdowns to deal with the coronavirus, while Bill de Blasio is busy imposing them in New York City. That may be a yuuuge misstep; Americans are now more focused on the economic crisis, and those policies will only make the economic crisis worse. The campaign that uses Carville’s advice and puts it to good use will get the most traction in this cycle. If Trump keeps pressing on rational and safe reopenings, with government assistance in making it happen, Republicans have a real opening to win voters to their ticket.
Update: I wrote this post before Trump put an end to Phase 4 negotiations, which Allahpundit wrote about earlier. Needless to say, this poll as well as the others AP cited show just how risky this move is. Trump finally got the public aligned to an economic message, and then more or less threw the economy under the bus in the short term … four weeks before the election.
That makes so little sense that I suspect the idea here is to get Democrats and some Republicans to woo him back into talks with a few significant concessions. Trump has made these kind of dramatic walk-aways in the past to get better leverage in negotiations. If that doesn’t work, though, the layoffs to come will get laid at his doorstep, even if in the long run it is more fiscally responsible to stop the helicopter money and focus on reopening instead.