NEW YORK (Reuters) – Americans are increasingly turning away from the coronavirus and focusing their attention elsewhere, especially toward rising consumer prices and other economic areas where Democrats are less trusted, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows, a shift that could favor Republicans in next year’s midterm elections.
While COVID-19 continues to claim more than 1,000 lives a day in the United States, the Oct. 18-22 national opinion survey shows the country’s fixation on public health and diseases has faded since the beginning of the year. In October, just 12% of U.S. adults rated public health issues like the coronavirus as a top national priority, down from 20% in February.
Meantime, two-thirds of the country, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents, say that “inflation is a very big concern for me.”
Americans are also closely watching the pandemic-era job market, where businesses struggle to find enough workers while millions of people remain unemployed: the Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that 73% of adults want political leaders to focus their attention on jobs and economic growth.
It is a dramatic shift in the political landscape in just one year. Joe Biden and his Democratic Party won the White House and control of Congress last year on a campaign focused on the pandemic and former President Donald Trump’s handling of it.
Already, Democrats have failed to match a surge in voting for conservative candidates that helped Republicans win the Virginia governor’s race this week and wage a surprisingly competitive race in New Jersey. Now, it appears that what had been the Democrats’ top issue is no longer top of mind.
“Americans are ready to stop worrying about the coronavirus” after nearly two years, said Nicholas Valentino, a University of Michigan political scientist.
“When they look around they see other problems that need to be addressed,” Valentino said. “They see job listings everywhere. They’re waiting in long lines at the grocery stores. They’re waiting for things to be delivered because the supply chain is slow.”
Last November, a majority of voters — 61% — said COVID-19 was “an important factor” in determining their choice for president, and those voters backed Biden over Trump by a 52% to 46% margin, according to exit polls from the 2020 election.
Biden entered office with the approval of 55% of the country, and he was lauded for aggressively securing millions of doses of the coronavirus vaccine and nearly $2 trillion in financial relief from Congress.
Since then, Biden’s popularity has declined, even among those Democrats and independents who helped put him in office.
Public approval of Biden’s record on the economy, immigration, national unity, and even for his response to the coronavirus, has dropped almost every month since April, according to the poll.
Overall, approval of Biden’s performance in office is now hovering near its lowest levels of the year. The latest weekly survey here shows that 44% of U.S. adults approve of the president, which is down 11 percentage points since January, while 51% disapprove, up by 19 points in that same period.
“Those swing voters who were deeply concerned about Donald Trump’s failings a year ago are probably not delighted with how things are going now,” said Donald Green, an expert on voter turnout at Columbia University. “This is why many Democrats are on edge.”
PRIORITIES FOR 2022
Besides the economy, Reuters/Ipsos polling in October shows both parties have aligned themselves around a series of principles that could drive up voting among their base supporters as the coronavirus fades into the background.
Nearly nine in 10 Democrats favor tax hikes for the wealthy, 76% say that climate change should be the top concern for every country, while 78 percent say “it is too easy to access guns.”
On the other side of the political spectrum, 95% of Republicans support at least one of the party’s core principles: prioritizing the economy over all other issues, vigilance over inflation, tax cuts, and government deregulation.
They are also less likely than Democrats and independents are to support government efforts to combat the coronavirus. About half of Republicans — 51% — oppose requirements for protective masks in schools, while 44% support them. In comparison, only 8% of Democrats and 30% of independents oppose school mask mandates.
With the midterms a year away, neither side has much advantage in political engagement: 61% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans say they are “completely certain” to vote.
Reuters/Ipsos polls are conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. The latest large-sample survey was conducted from Oct. 18-22 and gathered responses from 4,430 adults including 2,001 Democrats, 1,591 Republicans and 465 independents. The results have a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of between 2 and 5 percentage points.
Reporting by Chris Kahn, Editing by Soyoung Kim and Alistair Bell