Economy More Pressing Issue Than Managing COVID Pandemic, Americans Say: Poll

A recent poll shows Americans' top political concerns are shifting away from the pandemic, which suggests Democrats may face challenges to keeping control of Congress after this upcoming midterm election year.

According to a poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, there are growing concerns about the economy, personal finance and inflation compared to previous years when COVID-19 management was a primary concern.

Only 37 percent of Americans listed the virus as a top governmental concern, versus the 53 percent who said it was a leading priority one year ago. Now, 68 percent listed the economy as a top concern, similar to last year. However, the growing concern over inflation rose 13 percent, a topic that could benefit Republicans during the midterm elections.

In the 12 months ending in November 2021, consumer prices rose 6.8 percent, the highest increase in almost 40 years, and roughly twice as many Americans now mention their household finances and the cost of living as governmental priorities.

Although the poll was conducted in early December, before Omicron cases reached record highs, recent follow-up interviews with poll participants suggest their opinions remain the same.

Mary Small, a 65-year-old pharmaceutical research contractor in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, whose state will hold a race for an open Senate seat, hopes gun safety will be a central issue during November's election since she said the virus might never end.

"If we say anything along the lines of, 'Let's wait until the pandemic dies down,' well, this son-of-a-gun virus has unlimited ability to mutate," Small said.

Judy Kunzman of Middletown, Pennsylvania, said she doesn't blame Biden for the ongoing pandemic, calling it one of those impossible things to predict and fix; she said other issues are taking center stage, such as supply chain disruptions.

"Everything has chips, and the chips aren't there," Kunzman said, referencing the global shortage of microchips that many electronics depend on.

Kunzman said she waited months for a car while she said her sister struggled to find a new cellphone.

Adam Brandon, president of conservative activist group FreedomWorks, said this wasn't the victory the Democratic Party thought it would have.

"We'll have another wave next year, and I just don't think anyone's going to care," Brandon said. "I think we're going to get to a point where everyone's just going to have to learn to live with it. This will die with a whimper as people just lose interest."

The Democratic Party won control of both the White House and Congress in 2020, pledging to manage the pandemic stronger than the Republican-led Trump administration. With COVID-19 still undefeated, voters are listing other political issues as important concerns.

AP Poll Economic Concerns
According to a recent poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, there are growing economic concerns for the upcoming midterm elections. Above, President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting of the White House COVID-19 Response Team on January 4 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Administration officials also acknowledge the public is growing weary with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Pandemic fatigue is real, and all of us feel it at some point," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said. "As a doctor, I've certainly seen it with my patients over the years. When you get tired and beaten down by a health problem—whether it's a personal health problem or a broader public health challenge—it can lead to disengagement."

The White House says COVID-19's waning as a preeminent concern actually underscores its success rolling out preventative measures, including vaccines. It argues that economic jitters now exacerbated by the pandemic eventually will ease.

Many respondents in the survey said they're not suggesting the country ignore the pandemic. Some said they were encouraged by early indications that the latest outbreak, although quickly spreading, could have milder effects for many. But compared with last year, higher percentages of people called out other issues, including immigration among Republicans and gun control among Democrats, as pressing in 2022.

"I'm hopeful with Omicron," said Samantha Flowers, a 33-year-old community college teacher in Columbia, Missouri, a state that has its own open Senate seat on November's ballot. "Even though more people are getting it, the sickness hasn't been as harsh for most people. Since we're all going to end up sick anyway, let it be one that we can recover from better."

Dorrie Keough from Garrettsville, Ohio, said she's vaccinated against COVID-19 and has gotten a booster shot, but she is still staying home as much as possible because of Omicron.

"Whoever's not in power is going to spin it in such a way to make it look worse than it might be," said Keough, 68, whose state also has an open Senate seat this year. "As much reading as I do—and as much investigating that I do—it's real hard for me to parse out what is actually happening versus what people are saying is happening."

Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said the key to Democrats' 2022 success is easing COVID-19 fears—but also delivering tangible policy results. That includes passing Biden's "Build Back Better," the massive social spending bill that remains stalled in the Senate.

"I don't think we're going to win an election for lack of anxiety," Green said, "if we've achieved nothing else."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.