In Depth

US election: what were the biggest issues for voters in Trump vs. Biden?

Exit polls suggest economy and racial inequality influenced voting decisions more than pandemic response

The economy was at the forefront of the minds of a third of US voters when deciding who to back in the presidential election, according to early exit polls.

As the vote results continue to roll in, The Times reports that interviews with members of the electorate “indicated that President Trump’s unexpectedly robust showing was driven by millions of voters who believed it a more important issue” than the coronavirus pandemic and other key challenges facing the country.

Of more than 15,500 respondents asked to identify the most important issue from five choices, 35% picked the economy, while 20% chose racial inequality. 

The Covid-19 response was the biggest issue for 17%, with crime and healthcare - traditionally major concerns on both sides of the political aisle - coming in joint fourth on 11%.

However, major differences in priorities between voters from either side of the political divide were also revealed by the exit poll, conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool syndicate of news organisations.

Of the respondents who cited racial inequality as the most important issue, 91% voted for Joe Biden. The Democrat was also backed by 82% of those who cited Covid as their main concern.

By contrast, 71% of those who chose crime as their key issue backed Donald Trump for the presidency. And crucially for the incumbent, 82% of those who chose the economy voted to give him a second term in the White House.

Healthcare was similarly split down partisan lines, with 63% of those who elevated it above all else pledging their support for Biden.

Although those political divisions come as little surprise, an arguably more surprising finding of the poll is that overall, 48% of US voters believe the nation’s pandemic response is going “very well” or “somewhat well”.

Meanwhile, a separate exit poll conducted by the Associated Press also puts the economy as a major concern for the US public, with 30% of more than 133,000 voters and non-voters quizzed citing it as their top issue.

But the APVoteCast survey found that an even greater percentage were more concerned about the coronavirus response, at 40%.

Whichever way the respondents voted, Trump’s allegations of election fraud appear to have fuelled a major new concern, “with three in ten expressing doubts that their votes would be counted accurately”, the news agency reports.

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