The issues that get people to vote in Pennsylvania are complicated

Pennsylvanians are evenly divided on who they plan to vote for. But they are much more divided on the issues that motivate them to vote.

As you might expect, many of these differences are biased. But not all of them.

In the Philadelphia Inquirer/New York Times/Siena College poll released Monday, voters were asked to describe why they voted for their candidate of choice, without any prompts. More than 22% of respondents cited the economy as their primary reason, making it the top motivator — though more so among voters who support former President Donald Trump.

Another 13% talked about abortion – much more among supporters of President Joe Biden. But these reasons still make up just one-third of all voters statewide.

Then things get complicated.

The survey was conducted on a sample of 1,023 registered voters between April 28 and May 7. The survey has a margin of sampling error of +/- 3.6 percentage points, although the error for individual responses was often greater.

Fractured voter motivations stand in stark contrast to the extraordinary statewide consensus on major issues. Four-fifths of voters across the Commonwealth said the national economy was bad; almost two-thirds want abortion to be legal.

Respondents also agreed that internal issues were the most significant when deciding how to vote. Few mentioned American policy abroad – including the conflict in Gaza, despite extensive coverage of the war and numerous protests against it on campuses.

However, people assessed the importance of many issues differently. In this convoluted list of reasons, several patterns stand out.

The emphasis on economics versus abortion depends on gender, age and education

The divergence of the parties on the two most frequently discussed issues – the economy and abortion – was clear, but more telling was that breakdown along demographic lines.

Some of these divisions are unlikely to be surprising. About 20% of women cited abortion as their motivation for voting; only 5% of men did so. Voters without a college degree, who on average earn lower salaries, were more likely to cite the economy as a reason for voting. Voters with higher education were twice as likely to mention abortion.

Similarly, youthful voters were more likely than older voters to emphasize abortion, while middle-aged voters were most likely to emphasize the economy.

But other demographic breakdowns counter partisan trends.

Non-white voters were more likely to support Biden than Trump, but were less likely than white voters to cite abortion as their primary reason for voting. They were about equally likely to cite the economy.

No region of the state’s voters rated the economy as more or less significant, despite edged partisan divisions between more urban and rural areas. And while suburban voters are often associated with concerns about abortion, only 16% of suburban voters cited abortion as their primary reason for voting.

Immigration matters to Trump voters – especially older and rural voters

After the economy and abortion, the third most frequently cited reason for voting was immigration — and that applies almost exclusively to Trump voters.

For the former president’s supporters, the problem remains unchanged. In 2016, Trump he ran loudly regarding the closure of the southern border. Since Biden took office, the influx of migrants at the southern border has increasedresulting largely from political, economic and climate crises in other countries.

While Trump has many supporters in the suburbs and cities, rural voters were most likely to cite immigration as their top issue – despite the fact that the majority of immigrants across the country and in Pennsylvania move to cities.

Voters in rural areas also tend to be older than the state average; seniors were twice as likely to mention immigration as a reason for voting than youthful voters.

Biden voters were most likely motivated by dislike of the other side or concerns about democracy

In the last election, voters joked about the character and prowess of the other side. The attacks that paint Biden as doddering or faint and Trump as criminal or cruel are countless.

But for only one side, the main reason for voting was concerns about the basic effectiveness of the opposition.

Biden’s supporters were much more likely than Trump’s supporters to claim that the motive for their vote was dislike for the opposing candidate, the candidates’ character or competences, the state of democracy or, more broadly, political corruption.

However, not all of Biden’s preferred demographics were created equal. Older, whiter, and more educated voters were most likely to consider these issues significant.

Some voters did not mention specific issues – particularly non-white voters and third-party supporters

Most voters were able to name at least one widely discussed political issue when justifying their voting decision. But some did not: they could have made a different, less discussed point, or they might have refused to make a specific point at all.

Voters of color and third-party supporters were twice as likely to be in that basket. Perhaps as many as a quarter of nonwhite voters did not mention major domestic or foreign policy issues in explaining their choice.

Interestingly, such groups exist will most likely be disconnected from the political process. According to the survey, they were most likely to have never voted before and not pay attention to political news.

Whether these more peripheral voters could pose a burden – or an opportunity – for mainstream candidates could be a major issue in this year’s campaign.

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