Saliency Index #3 – COVID concerns rising, inflation still secondary concern in Dem electorate

December 15th - In this third edition of NDN’s Saliency Index, assembled from Navigator Research’s latest poll completed on December 6th, we find rising concern about COVID, and inflation remaining a second tier issue in the Democratic electorate.  

Here’s the 12/6/21 Saliency Index: 

Soc/Medicare = Social Security/Medicare, Climate Ex W = Climate/Extreme Weather.  This data is drawn from the question “Select the top four issues that you feel are most important for President Joe Biden and Congress to focus on.” NDN’s model tries to capture the electorate a battleground candidate will speak to in 2022, coming in at Modeled D = (80%D, 15%I, 5%R) and Modeled R = (80%R, 15%I, 5%D).  You can find out more about the methodology here, and review our analysis from the 11/22 Navigator survey here.  

Different information universes – As we review the data each time we continue to be struck by how fundamentally different the information universes are for Democrats and Republicans.  While we know this conceptually, we find this analysis really brings it out. 

In this week’s report COVID is almost twice as important to Dem voters as Rs.  Two top tier Dem issues – climate/extreme weather and health care – barely register for Republicans.  Three top tier GOP issues – immigration, inflation and national security – are lower tier issues for Democrats.  Perhaps our favorite stat this week – twice as many Republicans are concerned about Afghanistan as they are about climate change and extreme weather.  

COVID jumps as Dem concern – In the Democratic electorate we saw significant movement on COVID over the past two weeks. In our last report from Navigator polling completed on 11/22, COVID and the economy/jobs each came in at 57%.  The 12/6 poll came in at 63% COVID, 55% economy/jobs, reminding us once again that for Democrats defeating COVID remains job #1.  Democrats would be wise to be scheduling events in the coming weeks involving steps communities are taking to prevent the spread of COVID – family vaccine clinics, school testing sites, etc. The winter surge is here, and the Dem electorate is feeling it.  

The rise of both COVID and health care in the GOP electorate suggests Republicans are feeling the winter surge as well.  

Inflation Concerns Easing a Bit with Dems and Independents – Inflation remains a second tier concern for Democrats coming in at 31%, at half the level of concern for COVID.  While Navigator didn’t ask the question in this poll, in their last poll modeled Democrats blamed COVID for inflation over Biden policies by 70-21.  So for the voters Dems are trying to reach COVID is a second tier issue, and an overwhelming majority believes it has been caused by COVID and not the President’s policies.  It’s why we continue to believe that Democrats should be talking about inflation/supply chain/worker shortages through a COVID/recovery frame; and, for example, more aggressively challenge GOPers concerned about inflation to go home and help us get more Americans vaccinated.  Defeating COVID remains the key to returning something close to normal.  

If anything concerns about inflation may be easing a bit.  Since the last Navigator poll it dropped from 29% to 28% among Dems, and 42% to 39% with Independents.  In a different survey question the number of people “very concerned”  inflation will rise in the coming months dropped from 68% on 11/22 to 59% on 12/6.  That’s a big drop, and signs do point to inflation concerns easing outside the GOP electorate, for now. 

We are beginning to believe that the big variance in how the two coalitions understand inflation right now may be more than the distorting effect of right wing media.  As we write in this recent post, because the biggest jumps in inflation have come from gas and cars, GOP exurban and rural voters may be experiencing inflation more intensely than voters in urban and suburban areas who drive less.  And, remarkably, real wages for those in the bottom half of wage earners have remained positive this year.  Thus working class Dems who drive less really may be doing okay with this inflation, particularly with the help of the Child Tax Credit and other support provided in 2021.  This is an area which needs much more study.    

Climate/Extreme Weather remains a top Dem concern – we’ve gone back and looked Navigator polling since May and all throughout climate/extreme weather has been in the upper tier of issues in the Democratic electorate.   This is a bit of sea change, and something which deserves far more attention and discussion in the center-left family.  It is, of course, a welcome development. 

The Democratic Electorate Is Much More Positive on the Economy – so we ran our model against a different Navigator question, this one asking whether the economy is getting better, same, worse.  The results are pretty interesting: 

Economy                 All     Modeled D   Modeled R

Getter Better             19         29              7

Same                        21         25            16

Getter Worse            55         39            73

So, for all voters, it’s 40% Better/Same, 54% Worse.  For the Dem electorate it’s 54% Better/Same, 39% Worse.  Completely different information universe here, and like in some many areas the intensity of GOP views can distort one’s understanding of where the Democratic electorate is without going through an exercise like this.  The Dem electorate is also net positive on whether they were confident in their personal finances.  Perhaps this is one reason why we are seeing rising concerns about COVID among Dems – folks are not as threated by the economy/inflation as Rs are, and feeling more of the recovery than other parts of the electorate.  

Final Note – this is an experimental project, and I welcome your feedback at We began this work as a response to what we feel has become an over reliance in center-left polling this year on an issue’s popularity rather than its importance, a subject we cover in greater depth in this recent essay