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Politics of influence: Experience colors choices

Poll explores ways people prioritize hot issues

WARREN — When people make decisions in their everyday lives, they seldom analyze their choices by running through a checklist of who they are — age, race, income, level of education or where they live.

But that checklist is important, especially now, in an unusually tense presidential election as Ohioans try to understand how others think and as politicians and campaigns try to manipulate minds.

A recent Ohio poll conducted by the Your Voice Ohio media collaborative and the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron suggests that a great deal of agreement exists on the issues most important to improving life — COVID-19, the economy, health care, racial equity and income inequality. But those differences in demography — gender, age, education, religion and more — play a role in how those issues are prioritized.

John Green, emeritus director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute and designer of the poll, said polling can help people better appreciate diverse life experiences.

“I hope people can place themselves in these polls, and understand people with different backgrounds see things differently, because their experience differs. We don’t have to all agree on everything, but we can show some understanding,” Green said. “That is why this type of story is important. It can help people see the big picture, to see that they do belong in one of these groups and gauge if how they feel about something is influenced by one of these factors.”

“Say, for example, I am an old white man and I think the economy and jobs are most important, but I understand how women — my wife, daughter or sister — may see things differently because the experience of women is different. I hope people can locate themselves and say: ‘This is where I fit in and why I might think this way.'”

Voters also should pressure their political candidates to deliver solid information about the issues that matter most to them, to see where they stand and judge whether their policy ideas will have a meaningful impact if elected, Green said.

THE ISSUES

“It’s no surprise, COVID ranks No. 1,” Green said, referring to recent data from a statewide poll.“When you go across demographic groups, there are changes but COVID is always near the top.”

The data was collected from a random sample of 1,037 registered voters in Ohio who were polled by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research in a joint project of Your Voice Ohio and the Ray C. Bliss Institute. The survey was administered between June 24 and July 15 online; the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In addition to polling, Your Voice Ohio journalists also participated in online dialogues throughout the state to discuss the issues. The participants were granted anonymity.

In the YVO poll, respondents were asked to decide which of 16 issues were most important to the election, with most selecting COVID-19.

The economy and health care came in next, followed by sustainable income and racism.

Access to adequate food, education, criminal justice and housing were mid-level concerns.

At the lower end of spectrum, the respondents named mental health, international peace and security, environmental protections, infrastructure, public services, drug addiction and immigration reform.

The poll indicated that no matter how important a voter ranked an issue, they still want to hear more information from the presidential candidates about the issues,

In an open-ended question, respondents were asked: “To you personally, what is the most important issue facing the country right now?”

Nearly a third of respondents selected the pandemic, 32.4 percent. But 20 percent of respondents said the most important issue is problems with the political process. Many said the process itself or President Donald Trump is the problem.

Fewer said Democrats, liberals or presidential candidate Joe Biden are the problem; 19 percent said public order problems such as race relations, unrest and crime are the most important issue; 16.6 percent said the economy is the most important issue; 9.6 percent found domestic issues such as health care are the most important; and just 2 percent named foreign policy problems — such as immigration — as the most important issue.

Green said he was most surprised about how low immigration ranked in the poll, especially after it was a big issue in 2016, and that racial unrest and inequality weren’t ranked higher, though that may have changed in the weeks since the poll.

“COVID seems to have displaced some of these concerns,” Green said.

VARIATIONS

“This data is about priorities, not about the attitudes about what to do about the issues. Two could say COVID is their priority, but have different ideas about how to fix it,” Green said. “It is important to remember people are looking at the issues through different lenses. Some see COVID as a standalone issue, while others might look at it through the lens of the economic impact, or from a health care perspective.”

Undecided voters and Biden supporters selected COVID-19 as the most important problem facing the country, by far. Trump supporters also tended to name the pandemic as the No. 1 problem, but the economy came in a close second.

The differences between men and women were small in the poll: men gave slightly less priority to income inequality and racism than women did. But both sexes indicated COVID-19 and the economy ranked first. People who identified as “other” for gender identity emphasized income, the economy and health care over racism and COVID-19 as their most important issue.

White people ranked economy and health care above racism, and black people ranked COVID-19 and racism higher than the economy, health care and income inequality.

Married people as a group are more likely to be concerned about the economy and health care, over racism. Single people ranked racism higher than the state average, and the economy, health care or income inequality less than the state average.

Younger people also ranked racism higher than the state average, with COVID-19 concerns coming in less than the state average, while people over 45 gave more importance to COVID-19 than the state average. Older people ranked the importance of racism under the state average, but cared more about health care and the economy than the average.

The most educated people cared more about the economy, and the least educated gave less of a priority to the economy and health care. The most educated people prioritized COVID-19 more than the average.

Income level moderately affected people’s positions. Less affluent people put less emphasis on COVID-19, health care and the economy, and more on income inequality and racism. The most affluent cared more than the average about the economy and less the average about income inequality.

“These demographic patterns may reflect the interests of the haves versus the have nots, with the former seeking to maintain their advantages and the latter wanting to reduce their disadvantages. But the patterns also may reflect a sense that a strong economic recovery will help everyone in the short run by restoring jobs and services, especially to the disadvantaged,” Green said.

RELIGION

White evangelical and non-minority Protestants cared more about the economy than COVID-19, and ranked racism below the state average.

White Christians as a whole are less likely than the rest of the state to rank racism as highly important.

Minorities in religious groups care more about COVID-19, racism and health care.

People without a specific religion and secularists such as atheists and agnostics had views in line with the rest of the state’s averages.

White Catholics cared more than the state average about COVID-19, the economy and health care.

REGIONS OF OHIO

Ohioans from the northeast and northwest part of the state named the economy as the most important issue, with COVID-19 and health care coming in second and third. Foreign policy was the fourth-most named priority in northeast Ohio, while access to food was in northwest Ohio.

Central, southeast and southwest Ohioans named COVID-19 as the most important issue, the economy as the second and health care as the third. Central Ohioans said racism came in fourth, southeastern Ohioans named income, criminal justice and addiction as the next most important issues, while southwest Ohioans named racism and criminal justice as the next-most important issues.

A Columbus-area man said it is “frustrating” trying to balance between the priorities of economy and safety. An Akron-area retiree said she cared more about jobs: “I was focusing so much on the pandemic, my priority now is listening to what is happening to us with the economy, and the effect on the working mom and the children.”

Differences regionally in the state could be explained by how the pandemic spread through Ohio, Green said.

“COVID-19 came to the northeast and northwest part of the state earlier,” he said. “The pandemic spread east to west, so it took more time to move into the southern parts of the state.”

Also, rural and urban areas may have reacted to the mask and social distancing guidelines differently, varying the importance of the issue depending on the outbreaks in their immediate communities at the time. “Different communities react differently,” Green said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

Life experiences shape our thinking

Ohioans were asked in a recent Your Voice Ohio / Bliss Institute poll to rank 16 issues in order of importance. Poll respondents were then divided by age, gender, race, education, income, marital status and religion to see how each group compared. Here are the issues in order of priority:

COVID-19: Older people

Economy: More affluent and secure people, including white, older, more educated, higher income, married and likely to have regular church attendance

Health care: Older, white, more educated, married and not likely to attend worship services

Income inequality: Women, white, less income, not likely to attend church

Racism: Women, non-white, younger, unmarried

Food: Less educated

Education: Women, younger, higher income, more education, married, attend church

Criminal justice: Non-white, younger, less income, unmarried and attend church

Housing: Women, less educated, less income, unmarried

Mental health: Women, younger, less income, unmarried

Peace and security: Older, more income, married

Environment: Younger, unmarried, not likely to attend church

Infrastructure: Men, more educated, more income, attend church

Social services: Younger, less income, less educated, unmarried

Addiction: Men, non-white, younger, less educated, unmarried, attend church

Immigration: Men, more income, married

Source: Poll conducted by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research from June 24 to July 15. It has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, and involved a random sample of 1,037 registered voters.

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