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What Utah voters see as the top issue for choosing a senator, congressperson

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Dollar bills are deposited in a tip box in New York.

Dollar bills are deposited in a tip box, May 24, 2021 in New York.

Mark Lennihan, Associated Press

As candidates throw darts at each other in the final weeks of the 2022 midterm election, Utah voters say the economy is the most important issue to them when selecting a senator or member of Congress.

A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found 28% of Utahns chose the economy from a list of nine issues presented on the survey. That more than doubled a candidate’s view of the role of federal government as the second choice, which came in at 13%.

Health care, education and environmental protection followed at 9%, as did “other” or an issue that wasn’t on the list. Abortion, gun control/Second Amendment protections, immigration and views on the structure of the U.S. Supreme Court, in that order, rounded out the responses.

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Continued record inflation, high prices for groceries, gas slamming family budgets and the prospect of a recession make the economy an obvious issue on voters’ minds as the midterm elections approach.

The poll results are indicative of the challenge Democratic and independent candidates face this election cycle, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.

“That’s probably not going to work in Democrats’ favor, and it is going to work in Republicans’ favor,” he said.

Republicans have blamed President Joe Biden for the state of the economy and record inflation in campaign speeches and ads. GOP candidates also blasted what they say is the Democrats’ misnamed Inflation Reduction Act, calling it a tax and spending spree and a vehicle to push their partisan agenda.

The law marks the largest investment in addressing climate change in U.S. history, allows Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on the costliest prescription drugs and extends health care subsidies through the 2024 election.

The poll showed Republicans and Democrats in sharp disagreement over the issue most important to them when choosing a senator or congressperson.

For Republican voters, the economy was far and away the top issue at 37%, with views on the role of the federal government a distant second. Environmental protection was the top issue for Democratic voters at 28% followed by health care.

“One thing you can see from that is just the different agendas that the political parties have. For Democrats, care for the environment and health care are two top priorities. For Republicans, it’s different,” Karpowitz said.

One-fifth of unaffiliated or independent voters identified the economy as the most important issue but were more evenly divided across all the issues listed.

Independent voters choosing the economy as the most important issue probably doesn’t help Democrats, Karpowitz said. The fact that independent voters are more evenly spread over several issues either indicates they aren’t paying close attention to politics or that they have a variety of concerns that don’t map neatly on to one party or the other, he said.

Four in 10 Utahns who identified themselves as “very” or “somewhat” conservative in the poll chose the economy as the top issue in the election this year. Those who identified themselves as “somewhat” liberal chose health care, while “very” liberal voters picked environmental protection.

Dan Jones & Associates conducted the poll for the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute of 815 registered Utah voters Sept. 3-21. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.43 percentage points.