We Asked Americans To Explain Their 2022 Votes — And How They’re Thinking About 2024
This article is part of our America's Issues series.
The 2022 midterms are now in the rearview mirror, but Americans have only begun to process the ramifications on politics and government. Although Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, Democrats avoided the sizable losses the president’s party tends to suffer in midterm House elections and even gained a seat in the Senate. Now, a closely divided Congress and President Biden will have to work together, a trying task in our hyperpartisan political environment — perhaps made harder by the specter of the 2024 election.
With all of that in mind, we’re wrapping up our FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos panel survey by looking at which issues drove Americans’ votes in the midterm election as well as their broader attitudes toward politics following the results. This marked the seventh and final wave of our polling collaboration using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, and this time we asked the same 2,000 Americans how they felt about the election, what policies the next Congress should pursue and their early views of the potential 2024 presidential candidates.
Throughout our polling series, we’ve asked Americans what issues they viewed as most pressing for the nation. And just like in each of our six preelection polls, respondents ranked “inflation or increasing costs” as the most important issue facing the country (62 percent) in the days following the election.1 “Political extremism or polarization” (33 percent) and “crime or gun violence” (28 percent) continued to rank second and third, respectively.
This time around, we also asked voters to pick the one issue, if any, that most impacted their vote choice in the midterms.2 Inflation or increasing costs (29 percent) and political polarization or extremism (19 percent) were top of mind again, while abortion ranked third (12 percent). Abortion was an especially big issue for Democratic voters, as 20 percent said it was their top voting issue, placing it behind only political extremism (29 percent). In contrast, half of Republican voters named inflation or increasing costs (50 percent) as their top voting issue, far ahead of any other concerns. Independent voters, as they often do, fell somewhere between Democrats and Republicans on their top voting issues, as the chart below shows.3
Of course, while it’s easy to focus on just voters and the voting process, we were also interested in why many people didn’t participate in the election. Among Americans who did not vote this year, 34 percent stated that they never vote in elections4 — a reminder that while turnout was high in 2022 (for a midterm) and record-setting in 2020 (for a modern presidential race), a large swath of potential voters is consistently uninvolved. Meanwhile, about 1 in 4 nonvoters felt that “none of the candidates were good options,” and another 1 in 4 “did not have enough information about the candidates and/or ballot initiatives.”
Yet, regardless of whether they voted, Americans were marginally optimistic about the state of democracy after the 2022 midterm elections. Overall, 43 percent said they were “very” or “somewhat” optimistic, compared with 33 percent who were pessimistic (the other respondents mostly didn’t know). Unlike after the 2020 election, when former President Donald Trump’s claims about election fraud ran rampant on the right, such calls don’t seem as frequent this time around (at least so far), and it showed in public opinion. While almost half of Americans agreed that they were surprised by the outcome of the 2022 midterm election (44 percent), this didn’t necessarily breed mistrust.5 In fact, 69 percent of Americans agreed that they trusted the results of the midterms, compared with only 16 percent who disagreed. Democrats were more likely to say they trusted the results (88 percent), but a healthy majority of Republicans (65 percent) said the same — a change from what we saw two years ago.
Americans were more divided, though, over what actions they would like to see the next Congress take. In fact, there was only one topic with broad bipartisan agreement: reducing inflation.6 Overall, 57 percent of Americans said fighting against increased costs should be one of the leading issues that Congress should focus on, with majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents naming it as a top priority.
Regarding other issues, Americans’ desires largely rested on which party they belonged to. Unsurprisingly, Democrats were far more likely to prioritize enshrining in federal law the right to an abortion, while Republicans were much more inclined to prefer Congress focus on stopping immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border. On fiscal issues, Democrats much preferred Congress raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, whereas Republicans wanted cuts to federal spending.
These partisan splits also showed up when we asked Americans whether they supported different policy ideas that Congress could address.7 When asked if they supported up to $10,000 in student loan forgiveness for Americans making under $125,000, 4 in 5 Democrats supported the proposal, compared with only 1 in 5 Republicans. Conversely, 3 in 5 Republicans supported impeaching Biden, which only 1 in 20 Democrats backed. Still, one proposal with potential bipartisan support was pardoning those with prior federal convictions for marijuana possession: Fifty-nine percent backed the idea, including 75 percent of Democrats, 55 percent of independents and 50 percent of Republicans.
But as Congress and the White House address — or don’t address — these issues and proposals, they will be awash in speculation about the 2024 presidential race. We asked respondents whether they were likely to vote in the Democratic or Republican presidential primary, and which potential contender they might prefer. And 2022 midterm voters were remarkably cool on both Biden and Trump, with the former having not yet made his 2024 intentions clear and the latter having declared his candidacy while the poll was in the field.
Among midterm voters, 44 percent planned to vote in the GOP presidential primary,8 and in keeping with many post-midterm polls, they didn’t firmly line up behind Trump. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis led with 42 percent among these respondents, followed by Trump with 24 percent and former Vice President Mike Pence with 5 percent.9 No other candidate cleared 5 percent, and 15 percent said they didn’t know who they would support. But at this early vantage point, this survey adds further fuel to the fire that we could be on our way to a Trump-DeSantis clash in 2024.
Meanwhile, 40 percent of midterm voters anticipated participating in the Democratic presidential primary. Despite his incumbency, Biden held a notably lackluster edge: He led with 14 percent, followed by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg with 12 percent, Vice President Kamala Harris with 9 percent and California Gov. Gavin Newsom with 7 percent.10 For their part, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez each had around 5 percent. A whopping 26 percent weren’t sure who they’d support, which may reflect the broader uncertainty over whether Biden runs for reelection.
Over the past seven months, we’ve learned that rising costs and major events — such as the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade — heavily weighed on the minds of Americans ahead of the November elections. And while this is the final entry in our polling series, there’s little question that the public’s views will continue to shift in response to their top concerns and the actions of elected officials in Washington.
Art direction by Dan Dao. Copy editing by Andrew Mangan. Story editing by Santul Nerkar.