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Policies, Priorities and Polls: How Voters Prioritize Key Issues

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Office of Research and Outreach at VCU Wilder School
May 6, 2022

Over the course of the pandemic, many Americans have taken inventory of/shifted their political priorities. As a result, many have called for their legislators, at both the state and federal levels, to take action in addressing a variety of economic and social issues. In this article, we highlight public opinion on four key issues: the economy, education, women’s reproductive rights and the coronavirus pandemic.

The Economy

Recently, the focus on strengthening the economy has grown considerably. According to the Brookings Institute, the dominant factor determining the voters’ view of the economy is inflation. In addition, a recent Pew Research Center report found that of a nationally representative sample of 5,128 adults, 71% identified strengthening the economy as a priority. When disaggregated by political affiliation, the economy was less of a priority for Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents (63%) than Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents (82%).

When compared to their most recent voter priority survey of 10,441 American adults surveyed March 7th–13th in 2022, almost 80% of voters said the economy was a key agenda item informing their decision in the upcoming Congressional midterm election. Republicans (90%) were more likely than Democrats (68%) to say the economy is “very important” in their voting decision.

In regards to priorities among racial and ethnic groups, the February 2022 Pew Research Center research shows that strengthening the economy is a top priority this year across the board for White (72%), Black (69%) and Hispanic (70%) American adults.

In a representative survey of 800 adult Virginians conducted December 13th–30th, the Wilder School Commonwealth Poll found that the economy is also a primary consideration for voters at the state level. When asked what the General Assembly should focus on during the early 2022 session, participants ranked the economy as the top priority. By race, 30% of White and 27% of minority and/or Hispanic respondents indicated prioritization of the economy in their statewide election decision.


Education policy is another priority for Americans. In their March 2022 report, the Pew Research Center indicated education policy as a high priority for Democrats (66%) compared to Republicans (53%). When examining CNN’s voter priority report, of which a representative sample of 1,527 adults were surveyed between January 10th–February 6th, 2022, there is a clear distinction between which educational policies have garnered the attention of particular groups. These distinctions included:

  • Democrats (50%) expressed the status of education being “highly important” in comparison to Republicans (43%).
  • Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents (33%) were more likely than Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents (16%) to suggest curriculum or school quality as an issue.
  • Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents (21%) were more focused on school funding and costs than Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents (6%).

In Virginia, the Wilder School Commonwealth Poll found that Democrats and Republicans prioritize education at similar rates (19% and 20%, respectively).

Women’s Reproductive Rights

Despite almost five decades of stability in federal Roe v. Wade protections, women’s reproductive rights have been garnering more attention in the American political arena. More specifically, morality and ethical concerns pertaining to women and their healthcare providers have become integral in discussions of abortion rights. The Brookings Institute posits “few Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all circumstances, and even fewer support an across-the-board ban.” The Pew Research Center showed that 43% of registered voters surveyed said abortion policy is “very important” to their plans to vote in the 2022 midterms. Abortion policy was of slightly greater importance to Democrats (46%) than Republicans (40%).

In the Wilder School Commonwealth Poll, 16% of Virginians indicated women’s reproductive rights were a key consideration during the recent gubernatorial election. Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to indicate women’s reproductive rights as important (30% and 4%, respectively). Virginians were relatively unified in attitudes towards women’s reproductive rights across racial and ethnic groups. Non-Hispanic White (16%) and minority and/or Hispanic (15%) Virginians felt that women’s reproductive rights were important to consider in the November gubernatorial race. Women (19%) indicated the importance of women’s reproductive rights policy to their vote for Virginia governor was almost two times greater than men (12%).

The Coronavirus Pandemic

In a Pew Research Center February 2022 study of public priorities, addressing COVID-19 was a policy priority for 60% of respondents. The majority of Democrats (80%) said COVID-19 response should be a top priority compared to Republicans (35%). This trend appeared to shift according to their later publication where “​​a third of voters say that the coronavirus outbreak” is an important issue in midterm voting. Within the state of Virginia, Commonwealth Poll participants placed COVID-19 policy much lower on the priority scale. Of those that considered it highly, Democrats (16%) were two times more likely than Republicans (8%) to prioritize addressing COVID-19.

Looking Ahead

As demonstrated by several research institute reports, the economy, education, women’s reproductive rights and COVID-19 are all key policy issues informing citizens’ voting decisions in the upcoming Congressional midterm election. Race, gender and party identification are just some of the predictors of policy prioritization, although to varying degrees. Ultimately, those running for office must diligently take inventory of their constituents’ policy priorities.

Author: The Office of Research and Outreach at VCU’s Wilder School aims to enhance, promote, and celebrate the research of Wilder School faculty and students. The Office also oversees the Wilder School Commonwealth Poll, as well as research from the Wilder School’s Centers and Institutes.

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