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Several Issues Tie as Most Important in 2020 Election

Several Issues Tie as Most Important in 2020 Election

by Zach Hrynowski

Story Highlights

  • 35% of Americans cite candidates' positions on healthcare as extremely important
  • 34% see candidates' views on national security as extremely important, tied with gun policy
  • Parties divided on "extremely important" issues by as many as 36 percentage points

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Of 16 issues presented in a recent Gallup poll, at least 30% of U.S. adults rate five as being "extremely important" to their vote for president in 2020: healthcare, national security, gun policy, education and the economy. As expected with a Republican president in office, Democrats assign higher importance than Republicans to most of the issues tested, repeating a pattern seen for the opposition party (the party opposite the sitting president) in every election since 2004.

About one in three Americans say healthcare (35%), terrorism/national security (34%), gun policy (34%) and education (33%) will be extremely important to their vote. Thirty percent say this about the economy, the lowest Gallup has measured for that issue in an election year since 2000, another strong economic year.

Importance of Issues to U.S. Adults' Votes in 2020 Presidential Election
Now I am going to read a list of some of the issues that will probably be discussed in next year's presidential election campaign. As I read each one, please tell me how important the candidates' positions on that issue will be in influencing your vote for president -- extremely important, very important, somewhat important or not important.
Extremely important Extremely important + Very important
% %
Healthcare 35 81
Terrorism and national security 34 80
Gun policy 34 74
Education 33 83
The economy 30 84
Immigration 28 74
Climate change 26 55
Abortion 25 64
The distribution of income and wealth in the U.S. 25 58
The federal budget deficit 23 72
Taxes 23 69
Race relations 23 66
The nation's infrastructure 22 74
Foreign affairs 21 64
Trade with other nations 18 68
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights 11 38
Ranked by percentage "extremely important"
Gallup, Dec. 2-15, 2019

These results are based on a Dec. 2-15 Gallup poll, prior to recent events in Iran that may increase the importance of terrorism/national security and foreign affairs as issues in the 2020 election.

While trade, infrastructure and foreign affairs all rank near the bottom of the list on extreme importance, three-quarters of Americans (74%) say that infrastructure is at least "very important" to their vote, while 64% and 68% of respondents say the same about foreign affairs and trade, respectively.

Large Partisan Divides on the Importance of Many Issues

Democrats and Republicans are separated by more than 10 percentage points in nine of the 16 issues polled, and four issues divide them by more than 20 points. In each of those cases, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say those issues are extremely important to their vote. The largest party gaps on issues regarded as more important by Republicans than Democrats are five points, on abortion and terrorism/national security.

Partisan Divide in the Most Important Electoral Issues
Ranked by percentage difference between Democratic and Republican "extremely important" responses
Democrat Independent Republican Democratic minus Republican difference
% % % pct. pts.
Climate change 44 27 8 +36 D
Healthcare 49 36 22 +27 D
Distribution of income and wealth in U.S. 37 25 12 +25 D
Race relations 33 24 11 +22 D
Education 43 33 23 +20 D
Gun policy 46 31 26 +20 D
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights 18 11 5 +13 D
Foreign affairs 27 23 15 +12 D
The nation's infrastructure 28 22 17 +11 D
Trade with other nations 21 19 15 +6 D
Taxes 24 23 21 +3 D
The economy 30 29 30 0
The federal budget deficit 22 26 23 +1 R
Immigration 28 26 30 +2 R
Terrorism and national security 33 33 38 +5 R
Abortion 23 25 28 +5 R
Gallup, Dec. 2-15, 2019

Healthcare's high level of importance (35% among all Americans) can be attributed to about half of Democrats and more than a third of independents ascribing it as extremely important, making it the most important issue for both groups.

Gun policy (34%) and education (33%) are similarly driven into Americans' five most important issues as a result of 20-point Democratic margins. Those issues also rank highly among independents.

Terrorism/national security and the economy -- at 34% and 30% among U.S. adults, respectively -- are the two most influential issues for Republican voters. They are less polarizing than Democrats' two most important issues, given that Democrats also rate these fairly high on importance. Thirty-eight percent of Republicans rate national security as extremely important to them in the 2020 election, as do 33% of both Democrats and independents. Republicans (30%), Democrats (30%) and independents (29%) are all in alignment as to how influential the economy will be to their vote.

Issue Importance Often Tied to Power More Than Party

This phenomenon of one party being more likely than the other to rate issues as important is not isolated to 2020. Gallup has observed a similar pattern in recent election years, with more supporters of the party out of power rating most issues as important compared with supporters of the party currently occupying the White House.

Though the specific issues asked about in any election year vary, there are six common issues -- terrorism/national security, the economy, healthcare, the federal budget deficit, immigration and taxes -- that Gallup has measured in the early stages of each presidential election campaign since 2004. Across those six issues, the average percentage of out-party supporters rating each as extremely important has exceeded the percentage of incumbent-party supporters who do the same.

Line graph. The average importance of issues during presidential election is consistently higher among opposition supporters.

While on average this trend has been true in every election since 2004, certain issues are more susceptible to higher-than-average out-party importance than others.

For example, in the past four election years (2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016), regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican held the presidency, supporters of the party out of power were 19 points more likely than the president's party to claim the federal deficit would be extremely important to their vote in the upcoming election. However, that is not the case this year, as Republicans and Democrats assign equal importance to the issue. Neither party has yet to make a big deal of the deficit -- even as it approaches the record high -- perhaps because the latest budget agreement included higher domestic spending favored by Democrats along with lower taxes and higher defense spending favored by Republicans.

Issues that are of similar importance to Democrats and Republicans in most election years -- such as taxes and the economy -- also tend to be slightly more important to the out-party, though there are isolated exceptions.

Certain issues have been consistently more important to one party than the other, although the level of importance to the president's party tends to be lower in years that the incumbent candidate is running for reelection. For example, in every election since 2004, Republicans have assigned higher importance to immigration and national security than Democrats have. However, the smallest differences in importance between the parties are seen in 2004 and 2020, during the reelection campaigns of Republican Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump, respectively. Conversely, Democrats have consistently ascribed higher importance to healthcare in every election except 2012 -- the year Democratic President Barack Obama was running for reelection.

Small multiple graphs. Six key issues that supporters of the presidential party differ on from those of the opposition party.

This fluctuation in issue importance may reflect the presidential party's satisfaction -- and the opposing party's dissatisfaction -- with the policies their incumbent candidate is pursuing or actively implementing, such as Obama's passage of the Affordable Care Act before the 2012 election and Trump's efforts to secure the U.S.-Mexico border in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

While the six issues asked about consistently since 2004 do establish a pattern of the out-party rating issues as more important to their vote than the in-party does, the 2020 data may best reflect that pattern in ratings on issues asked less consistently -- such as education and gun policy.

Bottom Line

In 2020, Democrats are more likely than their Republican counterparts to rate most election issues as extremely important, many by more than 10 percentage points. This trend has been reflected by supporters of the party out of power in every election since 2004, and is driven by both increased importance being assigned to specific issues by the out-party and lower levels of importance being cited by the in-party. This may play out most tangibly during the remaining Democratic primary and general election debates, as candidates look to find policies that resonate with voters in the areas most important to their respective parties.

Learn more about public opinion metrics that matter for the 2020 presidential election at Gallup's 2020 Presidential Election Center.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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