The Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington recently polled 1,000 Virginia adults to learn what’s on their minds during the midterm elections. Inflation, economy and jobs, threats to democracy, the Biden presidency, and abortion rose to the top of the results in the annual survey conducted for the center by Research America Inc. Sept. 6-12.
“Normally the party that controls the White House faces a tough midterm election,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington and director of UMW’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies. “The Supreme Court ruling has given the Democratic Party something that works as a powerful motivation for their voters. If the political conversation were focused on inflation and economic uncertainty, as it was before the Court’s ruling earlier this year, Republicans would have had a great midterm election.”
The survey shows that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark abortion ruling that reversed Roe v. Wade earlier this year remains a major factor in the upcoming midterm elections for nearly half (46 percent) of Virginians. Another 18 percent of respondents in the poll said that the abortion decision would be a minor factor for them, while 29 percent said the ruling would not be a factor for them in the midterm elections.
Similar to the first set of data from the annual survey, in which voters graded public schools, the results indicated partisan differences.
Among those respondents who identified as Democratic, 71 percent considered the abortion ruling a major factor in this fall’s elections, as compared to 23 percent of Republicans who said the abortion ruling was a major factor for them. Among those who view themselves as political independents, 39 percent viewed the abortion ruling as a major factor for them.
In the survey, 26 percent of respondents said abortion should be legal in all cases and 34 percent said it should be legal in most cases. Opposition to abortion is less common: 24 percent of the survey respondents said abortion should be illegal in most cases and 9 percent said it should be illegal in all cases.
When asked what the nation’s most important problem is, 22 percent of Virginians identified inflation, 19 percent said the economy and jobs, 15 percent said threats to democracy, 7 percent said immigration and 6 percent said health care and COVID-19.
The economy and jobs and the inflation options were the top two concerns of Republicans, and those topics ranked second and third for Democrats in the survey. Threats to democracy were the top concern of Democrats, with 23 percent of party identifiers listing it as the nation’s top problem. Among Republicans, 10 percent listed it as their top national concern. For them, the topic ranked fourth, behind the two economic matters and immigration. For independents, inflation and the economy and jobs ranked first and second, with threats to democracy ranking third as areas of greatest concern.
“The 2022 midterms are shaping up to be a contest between two partisan narratives,” said Farnsworth. “Will voters’ economic concerns outweigh voter worries over abortion and threats to democracy? The very close divisions among voter preferences in the Mary Washington survey demonstrate that neither side has provided a more compelling argument than the other so far.”
Virginians are nearly evenly divided in their plans for voting in the upcoming midterm congressional elections, with 39 percent saying they plan to vote for a Democratic congressional candidate and 37 percent saying they plan to vote for a Republican candidate. Among the subset of likely voters, 44 percent of those surveyed said they intend to vote for a Republican candidate for Congress and 43 percent plan to vote for a Democratic one.
Midterm elections are often a referendum on a president, and for some voters polled that remains an important part of their political calculations. President Biden is a major factor in the midterm elections for 44 percent of respondents, and a minor factor for 24 percent, percentages roughly comparable to the role abortion seems likely to play in the midterm elections.
As is usually the case, there are clear partisan differences that favor voters from the party opposed to the president: 64 percent of Republicans and 35 percent of Democrats identified Biden as a major factor in their upcoming vote choice.
The Virginia statewide survey did not ask about specific congressional races, because the small size of the subsample in each of the state’s 11 congressional districts would not provide reliable estimates of voter preferences in individual districts.
The University of Mary Washington’s Virginia Survey Fall 2022 was conducted by Research America Inc. from September 6 to 12, 2022. The total sample included 1,000 Virginia residents, including 819 registered voters and 705 likely voters. Part of the sample (630) was contacted by phone (72 percent cell, 28 percent landline), and part of the sample (370) was contacted online. All interviews were in English. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies, including age, gender and race/ethnicity. The margin of error on the total sample is +/- 3.1%. The margin of error on the Likely Voters portion of the sample is +/- 4.1%.
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