Biden and Trump Voters Have Different Concerns

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

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.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Modulo Myself says:

    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.

    It’s also the subject of every speech by Trump and Republicans, as well as their descriptions of past actions and future intentions.

    There’s just no real partisan lens shaping Trump as a threat to democracy. Biden worked to pass a very draconian immigration bill. The partisan lens disappeared that for Republicans (who mostly wish to be threatened). That’s an act of media spin and polarization.

    I know it’s mean to real Americans who know Republicans to point this out, but anyone who affirms their support of Trump as if it’s all just spin is engaging in an act of obvious self-deception.

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  2. Modulo Myself says:

    I mean, Trump surely doesn’t sound like an authoritarian here:

    Former president Donald Trump promised to crush pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses, telling a roomful of donors — a group that he joked included “98 percent of my Jewish friends” — that he would expel student demonstrators from the United States, according to participants in the roundtable event with him in New York.

    “One thing I do is, any student that protests, I throw them out of the country. You know, there are a lot of foreign students. As soon as they hear that, they’re going to behave,” Trump said on May 14, according to donors at the event.

    Biden should just give a speech and make it seem like Trump’s an authoritarian. Oh wait, no it’s Israel and that would be a problem, and every DC centrist would meltdown into gibberish as they tried to figure out what side to take.

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  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    The heavy-handed framing, this list of eight issues plus an open category, renders the poll useless IMO.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Modulo Myself: @Modulo Myself: I’m not sure I understand your point. I’m a Biden voter and think Trump is indeed a threat to our democracy. But the reason Biden supporters pick that as their #1 issue is because it’s framed that way by Democratic opinion leaders, not because they independently arrived at that conclusion.

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    I tend to agree, but I have a question: given that we know the viewership for cable news is minuscule, and God knows no one is reading newspaper editorials, how do voters discover what message opinion leaders are selling?

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  6. al Ameda says:

    Shocked to see that Drag Queen Story Hour and DEI aren’t polling among Republicans at all.

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  7. Modulo Myself says:

    @James Joyner:

    Maybe a few cases, sure. But most Democrats deep down are just people who fight back against authoritarianism. They don’t need a father figure to tell them it’s okay to find Trump a threat.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @al Ameda:
    Those answers were not made available. The poll didn’t ask, ‘what’s bugging you?’ it asked respondents to rank the eight topics in order of importance. Hence my dismissal. You’ll notice Gaza, Ukraine, China, the entire world is left out, along with hot button social issues. Add Gaza and you’d get a different ranking from Dems, add DEI and you’d get different answers from Repubs.

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  9. al Ameda says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Those answers were not made available. The poll didn’t ask, ‘what’s bugging you?’ it asked respondents to rank the eight topics in order of importance. Hence my dismissal. You’ll notice Gaza, Ukraine, China, the entire world is left out, along with hot button social issues. Add Gaza and you’d get a different ranking from Dems, add DEI and you’d get different answers from Repubs.

    I understand and I agree with you on those points.
    Also, I was being sarcastic in my response and sometimes that doesn’t come across, or translate well.

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  10. just nutha says:

    Whether the poll involves partisans thinking for themselves or following orders from the parties, it’s clear that with homelessness polling dead last behind “other” on the radar of the party most likely to be concerned, the housing shortage is not likely to be addressed anytime soon.

    On the other hand, I don’t have a housing problem and liberals still care twice as conservatives. We can content ourselves with tsk-tsking the casualties of TWO(some)Ds, tell others that they shouldn’t have left the asylums that were closed a decade before they born, and tell young people they should have worked harder in school. It’s not my fault those people are homeless, after all.

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  11. Raoul says:

    It is pretty clear immigration is a (the?) key issue for Republicans. With immigration suddenly and dramatically coming down one would expect that to dwindle, but of course it won’t, which means that under the immigration opposition veneer there is a stronger fundamental drive. Now, it is clear, we need immigration reform, probably, something like the current proposal but at a greater scale (basically more infrastructure). But to be clear, because of our birth rates, this country needs immigrants. It befuddles the mind why those living in Iowa and Nebraska, with all the labor immigrants provide, don’t see this. Like I said, it is something fundamental with these people. And of course the charlatans in Fox News and the Republican Party. For example, Sen. Rubio said on tv this month that the illegal population is 35 million. Most estimates are between 10-15 with 12 being a consensus number. BTW, has there ever been a more disappointing senator than Rubio?

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  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    @al Ameda:
    The difficulty of conveying sarcasm is an ongoing problem. Easier in fiction where you have more space to establish a voice both your own and your characters. Even then though I’ve had people who just absolutely did not get it.

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  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Raoul: I think the people in Nebraska and Iowa (and the redder parts of Texas, California, Georgia, Washington, etc. understand the problem well enough. The just don’t believe immigration is the answer. They don’t need immigration, they need guest labor, braceros programs, slavery indentured servitude, stuff like that. You might be able to sell them on some sort of a reduced status citizenship where the government pretended to protect their rights while not actually doing so. Lots of solutions that don’t involve diluting the effects of the Electoral College.

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  14. Gustopher says:

    @Raoul:

    It is pretty clear immigration is a (the?) key issue for Republicans. With immigration suddenly and dramatically coming down one would expect that to dwindle, but of course it won’t, which means that under the immigration opposition veneer there is a stronger fundamental drive.

    I think we all know what that is — white supremacy.

    Woven into the very fabric of our country, the simple belief that we are a white nation of white people doing white things, whitely. That any gain among brown people comes at the expense of white people.

    East Asians are a model minority because they are often seen as light brown people doing white things, whitely.

    And it explains Clarence Thomas and the various Filippino or Latino Proud Boys (the off-white white supremacists).

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  15. Chip Daniels says:

    Courtesy Aaron Rupar:

    Juliet Jeske, author of the highly recommended Decoding Fox News newsletter, is one of the world’s foremost experts on that condition.

    “Propaganda is a very difficult thing to erase from somebody’s brain,” she told me. “Some people just want to be in that Fox News rage spiral. They’re riding a rollercoaster of fear, paranoia, and hate. And people enjoy that. They enjoy sitting in their homes and being angry at the world. I don’t understand that mentality at all. But that’s what Fox provides them.”

    https://www.publicnotice.co/p/juliet-jeske-decoding-fox-news-interview-2024

    These people enjoy being angry and resentful. It doesn’t matter if they have a good job or a bad one or none at all, it doesn’t matter if crime is going up or down, if gas prices are going up or down.

    What matters is that they are forced to treat people they regard as inferiors as equals. Drag queens, immigrants, uppity women…So the Trumpists just glom on to whatever excuse they need to to declare their anger.

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  16. gVOR10 says:

    The economy is important, but politics in the U. S. has always revolved around race. But like Lee Atwater said, you can’t say ni****, ni****, ni**** anymore. Lawnorder and bussing were proxies for racism. Now immigration is the GOP proxy for racism.

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