What Is Voters’ Highest Priority? There’s a Way to Find Out


Whether to impeach Mr. Trump, for example, is more important to Democrats than the economic issues being talked up by the party’s presidential candidates on the campaign trail, such as debt-free college (the 12th-most important issue) or “Medicare for all” (the 16th). The environmental package called the Green New Deal came in as the 25th-most important policy to Democrats — solidly middle of the pack (though 86 percent of Democrats with an opinion support it).

Republicans are similarly focused on impeachment. They are roughly 45 percentage points more likely to choose a basket of policies when it includes their preferred position on the topic (88 percent of Republicans with a position on impeachment do not favor it). It outweighs every other issue for Republicans — including parts of Mr. Trump’s and the party’s agenda, such as building a border wall. The Green New Deal is the sixth-most important issue for Republicans — a much higher ranking than among Democrats (nearly a quarter of Republicans support it, but many more are opposed to it or just not sure).

Just like Democrats, Republicans are willing to sacrifice getting what they want on other issues, like estate tax repeal and a merit-based immigration system. Rounding out the lower-impact issues for Republicans are school vouchers, trade restrictions and a public option for health insurance.

Impeachment, family separation, the border wall — these are all issues that have become important because of Mr. Trump or his policies. Even perennially important issues such as gun policy and abortion rights may be especially so at this moment because of recent mass shootings and the changing makeup of the Supreme Court. Mr. Trump has played a role in these matters, too, and will continue to do so.

Considered in this light, the priority Americans give to the impeachment inquiry makes sense.

Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, reflected recent G.O.P. sentiment when he said that impeachment “crowds out a number of issues” and stops “really important work we need to get done for the country.”

But our data suggest an ordering of priorities that indicates people care about issues that the president plays a role in. That they want to make sure he stays in office — or is removed — is one way voters can bring about the policies they most want to shape their world.


Lynn Vavreck, the Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy at U.C.L.A., and John Sides, professor of political science at Vanderbilt, are co-authors of “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America.” Follow her on Twitter at @vavreck and him at @johnmsides.

Chris Tausanovitch is an associate professor at U.C.L.A.’s political science department. Follow him on Twitter at @ctausanovitch.





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