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Voters care about spiking living costs more than abortion access, poll shows

Inflation and gas prices are more pressing concerns for midterm election voters than abortion, a fact Republicans hope will boost them into the majority in Congress, as the parties are neck and neck weeks before the midterm elections, a recent poll showed.

Though Democrats made gains in fundraising and voter enthusiasm following the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending constitutional protections for abortion, persistently rising inflation and gas prices are higher priorities for a majority of voters when picking candidates than the issue of abortion.

The NBC News poll found that 59% of voters are most concerned with what candidates will do to address the cost of living, while 37% say a candidate’s abortion position is their tipping point. To be sure, one poll in isolation doesn’t indicate how an election will turn out. Trend lines over weeks and months are important, and voter priorities can change until the moment they cast ballots.


Stephen Parlato of Boulder, Colo., holds a sign that reads “Hands Off Roe!!!” as abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Andrew Harnik/AP

Still, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told the Washington Examiner that the survey’s finding bodes well for his party in the midterm elections. House Republicans need to net five seats in the 435-member chamber to gain a majority for the first time since the 2018 elections.

“It’s a security election. It’s your economic security, and it’s your physical security,” Emmer said, alluding to crime, another major issue for voters. “Democrats failed at both.”

Inflation is hitting voters hard, making them more likely to vote for House Republicans, Emmer said.

“On the economic security front, every American family that is not part of the political elite, that is not part of the uber-wealthy, that is just trying to raise a family and chase their American dream, has to make a choice every day right now between buying groceries versus putting gas in the tank,” Emmer continued. “And these guys actually think here in this bubble called Washington, D.C., that they can make this argument that ‘Oh, gas prices have actually dropped.'”

The NBC poll, which was conducted between Sept. 9 and 13 among 1,000 registered voters with a margin of error of 3.1%, also found that the parties are tied on a generic ballot. Each party has 46% of voters favoring Republican or Democratic control of Congress after the midterm elections.

When Democratic candidates talk about the economy, which is rare, they emphasize the small improvements in recent months. Gas prices have dropped, that’s true, and the August inflation rate decreased to 8.3% from a whopping 9.1% in June. They’ve also emphasized a commitment to abortion access. Candidates such as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman are banking on their bases and independents turning out to vote en masse, with abortion as their primary motivator.


But those concerns may fall short against GOP messaging on the economy. Republicans often point out that people have lost an entire month of income to increased costs of living. Gas prices, though not as frighteningly high as $5, $6, or even $7 a gallon, as they were this summer, are still hovering around $3.70 a gallon — well over the $2.20 average in September 2020 under former President Donald Trump. Families have lost an average of $6,800 in real annual income this year.

“You could buy gas across this country at a buck eighty-five to $2.20 a gallon when Joe Biden took office,” Emmer said. “This idea that somehow, now we can buy it at $3 to $4.50 a gallon, by the way, not all states — you’re paying a lot more than that still in California and the northwest. Plus, think about what’s about to hit: Home heating costs are up, I think, close to 70%, and that’s hitting right now. On economic security, they have completely failed the American family right now.”

GOP lawmakers no longer talk of a red wave sweeping Republicans to majorities in the House and Senate. But Democratic political momentum over the summer may also be fading. Just because inflation and gas prices aren’t getting worse month to month doesn’t mean they won’t make a meaningful difference in voters’ wallets — at least by Election Day.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed to this report.

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