NDN's Saliency Index #2 - COVID, The Economy Remain Most Important Issues for Dems

NDN’s Saliency Index 12/8/21 – COVID, the economy remain most important issues for voters Dems need to win in 2022

A few weeks back, NDN launched a new analytical product we are calling the Saliency Index.  It takes the data from Navigator Research’s “most important issue” question and models it for what a typical electorate in a swing state or district might be.  The Navigator question smartly asks people to provide 4 answers from a pre-set list, providing a great deal of granularity not available when respondents are only asked to name a single highest priority.  

You can learn more about the methodology behind the Index in this post, and you can find the raw data from the latest Navigator survey here.   We will be putting out a new Index each time Navigator releases its toplines, and will also begin to track changes in the Index over time. 

So here’s our Saliency Index from the just released 11/20/21 Navigator toplines, with Modeled D = (80%D, 15%I, 5%R) and Modeled R = (80%R, 15%I, 5%D):  

So the most obvious takeaway here is just how different the information universes are for Democrats and Republicans.  While we know this conceptually, this analysis really brings it out.  Two top tier Dem issues – climate/extreme weather and health are – are off the radar screen for Republican voters.  Three top tier GOP issues – immigration, inflation and national security – are second tier issues for Democrats.  

Other takeaways:

COVID remains a top issue for the Democratic electorate - As we’ve written elsewhere we think Democrats need to frame their agenda in the context of “defeating COVID, securing the recovery and…..” Democratic voters have not moved on from COVID, nor should we expect them to for a while.  Note here that COVID is almost twice as important for the Democratic electorate as it is for Rs – the gap here is huge, and critical to understand.  It’s why we think the President should go on a “war footing” on COVID – not just to keep asking people to do their part, but because Democratic voters want/expect him to lead on the issue. 

Climate/extreme weather is now consistently a top tier issue for the Democratic electorate – more work has to be done here, as this finding is new, and not showing up in other research projects.  May reflect the priorities of younger Americans, who make up a far bigger percentage of the Dem than GOP electorate.

Is the current Dem focus on inflation justified? For modeled Dem voters in this report inflation is a second tier issue right now.  A second question in this survey (q48) asks whether the inflation we are seeing is coming from COVID disruption or Biden economic policy, and for modeled Dem voters it is 70% COVID, 21% Biden. Using our methodology, inflation is just not a major concern for Dem voters right now, and the data suggests that the best way for Dems to address concerns about inflation, supply chains and worker shortages is keep challenging Americans to do their part in defeating COVID here at home. 

Finally, we understand that this is a crude analysis.  Every state and district will have their own specific issue hierarchies.  But it’s our belief that Democrats have to become more focused on what matters to voters, the salience of issues, not just their popularity.  As I explain in this essay, an issue can be popular but not important to voters.  What moves votes are issues which are popular and important.  Looking at the political landscape or a set of issues without first establishing saliency can produce distorted understandings of where voters are, and may help explain why it is possible that Democrats have done all this popular stuff this year and seen the President’s job approval decline so much.