In recent months, public polling shows the “importance” of issues like abortion and gun control have risen quickly in short periods of time. But what do these numbers really tell us, and what impact will they have on American politics moving forward?
The Economist/YouGov national survey fielded June 11-14 asked adults ‘which of these is the most important issue for you?’ The question includes guns and abortion among the 14 available response categories. Notably, jobs and the economy was the most important issue (20%), guns was tied for 3rd most important (10%), and abortion the 8th most important issue (6%).
But guns and abortion are both divisive issues, making them far less politically persuasive than some make them seem.
Why do I say these issues are less politically persuasive than they seem? Take for example the issue of inflation. Of all the people that would say inflation is the most important issue facing the nation, we can assume pretty much everyone would have the same sentiment towards the issue: let’s lower inflation.
Now, let’s take the issue of guns… when you hear ‘guns’ are you thinking gun control or gun rights? Of the folks that say guns is the number one issue in America, a certain percentage would think we need to be more restrictive when it comes to gun laws, while others may feel new restrictions will infringe on their rights… To show this with public sentiment: in the Economist/YouGov survey, 13% of Democrats said guns was the most important issue to them, while 7% of Republicans said the same. Though, I can’t imagine they have the same sentiment as to why...
This is similar to the issue of abortion; some folks who think abortion is the most important issue would be pro-life, while others pro-choice. So, the 6% of adults in America who say that abortion is the most important issue to them gets divided into two smaller sub-issues, ultimately making it less politically persuasive.
One last thing to note about these issues is that their importance among Americans comes and goes. In Quinnipiac’s May national survey, around the time of the SCOTUS Roe v. Wade leak, abortion was the second most important issue (11%), and gun violence was the third least important issue (5%). Fast forward to this month, after some terrible shooting tragedies, Quinnipiac saw gun violence become the second most important issue (17%), and abortion drop to tie at 7th most important (5%).
Between now and the election, we’ll see the rise and fall of many specific issues. What will be important to look at is whether everybody agrees on the end goal of the issue, or if people are pointing at the issue’s overall rise in importance to serve their own interests. I would hazard a guess that the bipartisan gun control bill will be ‘great’ for either Republicans' or Democrats' prospects for the midterm election, depending upon which news channel you watch.
But, if come election day, that issue is only the most important for a small amount of the population, and then it's halved because it’s a 2-sided issue, I’m not certain it will make a huge difference.