Midterm Issues: Inflation, Abortion, Immigration, Crime and Democracy : Consider This from NPR National issues are increasingly crowding out more local concerns in elections across the country.

With that in mind, we hear from five NPR correspondents covering some of the issues that may shape the course of the midterms.

Scott Horsley unpacks inflation. Sarah McCammon explains how this year's Supreme Court decision striking down a constitutional right to abortion is shaping voter decisions. Joel Rose puts immigration numbers in context. Martin Kaste explains why Republicans are making crime an election issue. And Miles Parks explains why Democrats say Democracy itself is on the ballot.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment to help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

Five Big Issues Americans Are Voting On This Election

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1134832874/1134913802" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The outcome of this week's midterms depends in large part on what the voters decide the election is actually about.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Your right to choose is on the ballot. Your right to vote is on the ballot.

SUMMERS: President Biden and the Democrats want Americans to see it as a battle over reproductive rights and the protection of democratic norms, as Biden laid out on Saturday at a rally in Pennsylvania.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Democracy is literally on the ballot. This is a defining moment for the nation. And we all, we all must speak with one voice regardless of our party.

SUMMERS: Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump and Republicans want the midterm election to be about inflation or crime and law enforcement. Here's Trump stumping for Senator Marco Rubio on Sunday in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: If you want safety for your family and security for your community, you need to vote every Democrat out of office and vote for Republicans up and down the ballot.

SUMMERS: Of course, every single vote comes down to the particular set of issues that resonate with one individual voter. Those can be profoundly personal, like Velma Lisa Duran's decision to vote for Democrat Beto O'Rourke for governor of Texas. Her sister, Irma Garcia, was one of the teachers killed in the elementary school shooting in Uvalde in May.

VELMA LISA DURAN: Our kids are in the ballot. I think of myself as a teacher having to go, and we don't have any protection.

SUMMERS: Voters can also be moved by candidate specific issues. Shirley Connor (ph) in Georgia wants to vote Republican Governor Brian Kemp out of office. She faults him for his approach to COVID-19, reopening schools and businesses early in the pandemic.

SHIRLEY CONNOR: I lost six family members - my father, my mother, both of my sisters. When it came time to wear a mask, there was this big upheaval. But these are the same people that want to tell you that you have to have an unwanted pregnancy.

SUMMERS: Meanwhile, Ann Austin (ph) praises Kemp for his refusal to help Trump undermine the 2020 presidential election results.

ANN AUSTIN: He's a man of integrity. He stood against a lot of political pressure on his side.

SUMMERS: But like lots of voters, Austin is motivated by the national issues that are dominating political ads across the country, like the price of gasoline.

AUSTIN: My everyday life is at the pump, so I'm concerned about inflation.

SUMMERS: In races across America, national issues are crowding out more local concerns. Daniel Hopkins is a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has written a book on the trend.

DANIEL HOPKINS: Our current highly nationalized political system has us in a groove where we focus on a set of symbolic, emotionally fraught, easily available and accessible issues that are prominent and resonant across the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: CONSIDER THIS - a handful of national issues are capturing voters' attention across the country in the final hours of the midterm campaign. We'll talk to NPR correspondents about how those issues are shaping the election.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: From NPR, I'm Juana Summers. It's Monday, November 7.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: It's CONSIDER THIS from NPR. We've rounded up no fewer than five NPR correspondents to talk about the big national issues that are at the top of voters' minds this election cycle. We'll start it off with NPR's Scott Horsley, who covers the economy. Hi there.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Scott, voters tend to give credit or blame for the economy to the president and his party. And right now, one of the biggest issues is inflation. How has that unfolded over the last two years?

HORSLEY: When President Biden was sworn in, inflation was not really on the radar screen as a threat. It was still running well below 2%. And the incoming administration was much more worried about jobs. In a way, they were fighting the last war. They were concerned that we might have a lackluster jobs recovery the way we did after the previous recession. So Biden and the Democratic Congress quickly passed another big stimulus bill on top of those that had come the year before. And on the jobs front, that was successful. The economy has added more than 10 million jobs since Biden came into office. But for voters like Craig Barnes in Plano, Texas, that has been totally eclipsed by high inflation.

CRAIG BARNES: Well, the cost of everything, you know, eggs and chicken, everything - you don't think about it until all of a sudden at the end of the month you go, damn, did I just spend three times I've ever done? You know, that's - we've got to stop.

HORSLEY: Republicans put much of the blame for high inflation on that big stimulus bill that Democrats passed on a party line vote. Of course, the lingering effects of the pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine have also contributed to higher prices. That's why you see high inflation in many other countries as well.

SUMMERS: So, Scott, have Democrats taken any significant steps to fight inflation? And also, have Republicans put forward any concrete actions that they will take if voters give them control of Congress?

HORSLEY: Democrats may have been too clever by half when they named their big climate and health care bill the Inflation Reduction Act. It hasn't actually done much to reduce inflation, and Democrats aren't getting as much credit for the clean energy provisions that are in the bill. Meanwhile, Republicans have happily seized on voters' anger over inflation, but they haven't actually proposed much in the way of solutions. They have talked in vague terms about cutting spending. Of course, they've also talked about cutting taxes, which could actually boost inflation.

SUMMERS: That was NPR's Scott Horsley. And next, I want to turn to abortion, which Democrats hoped would be a central issue in these midterm elections after the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to an abortion. NPR's Sarah McCammon has been covering the consequences of that decision. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Sarah, where have we seen the biggest effects from that decision? And who is it most affecting?

MCCAMMON: Well, first off, anyone who lives in the dozen or so states where abortion is now illegal is obviously affected. Beyond that, women of color and low-income people seek abortions at higher rates, and now many of those patients have to travel even farther than they might have before. That's something that Democrats are trying to emphasize in a year when the economy is top of mind for many voters. Here's Laphonza Butler, the president of EMILY's List, which backs female candidates who support abortion rights.

LAPHONZA BUTLER: Our economy ebbs and flows. But once our fundamental freedoms are taken away, we don't know if we're ever going to be able to get that back.

MCCAMMON: So Democrats are making the case that abortion is both a human rights issue and an economic one. Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to paint Democrats as extreme on abortion, or in some cases, they're just backing away from the issue and focusing on these other issues like the economy and crime.

SUMMERS: And Sarah, do you have a sense of whether people are actually going out to vote on the issue of abortion?

MCCAMMON: You know, a recent Gallup poll found that abortion was the second-most important issue to voters after the economy. So, yes. And there's been a surge in women registering to vote in recent months. Women rank both abortion and the economy as extremely important, basically neck and neck. So Democrats have been spending hundreds of millions of dollars campaigning around this issue. And the real question, Juana, is how much Democrats can harness that energy that was seen right after the Supreme Court decision and whether that will outweigh other concerns in the minds of voters.

SUMMERS: That was NPR's Sarah McCammon. I want to turn next to NPR's Joel Rose, who covers immigration for NPR. Hey there, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Joel, tell us, what is happening at the border right now, and how are those issues resonating in these elections?

ROSE: Yeah, we have seen a record number of arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border, more than 2 million in a single year for the first time, although more than a million of those migrants were quickly expelled under pandemic border restrictions that have been in place since the Trump administration. But you don't hear that second part quite as often. Republicans, in particular, have been playing up a sense that the border is in chaos, talking about illegal immigration as a threat and a burden. One of the more extreme examples is this TV ad from a dark money group called Citizens For Sanity, which has ties to several former Trump administration officials, including Stephen Miller. This ad aired a few weeks ago in states with key Senate races.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) This giant flood of illegal immigration is draining your paychecks, wrecking your schools, ruining your hospitals and threatening your family. Mixed among the masses are drug dealers, sex traffickers and violent predators.

ROSE: Democrats and immigrant advocates have decried this ad as racist and misleading. Immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. And immigrant advocates say this is blatant fearmongering right out of the Trump playbook.

SUMMERS: We have also heard a number of Republican candidates talk, quite a bit, about the amount of fentanyl crossing the southern border. Are the claims that they're talking about there accurate?

ROSE: Republican candidates are pointing to a real problem - overdose deaths associated with fentanyl have been rising. But GOP candidates and ads are sometimes misleading voters about how that fentanyl is coming into the U.S. It's true that a great deal of fentanyl is smuggled illegally into the U.S. from Mexico, but the vast majority of it comes through legal ports of entry, according to experts, smuggled by drug cartels in vehicles along with legitimate commerce, often by U.S. citizens. It's very rare to see fentanyl, or other drugs, smuggled on the backs of migrants, who are crossing the border illegally. So advocates argue it's misleading to call this an immigration problem.

SUMMERS: That was NPR's Joel Rose.

All right. Now, let's take a closer look at crime as an issue in this election. Martin Kaste covers law enforcement for NPR. Hey, Martin.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: I just want to start here with a basic question. Is crime actually up since the last election?

KASTE: Yes, if you're looking at murders and shootings; no, if you're looking at other kinds of crime averaged in, such as robbery and sexual assault. But there's also a big maybe here because there's a lot of uncertainty about 2021 numbers because the Feds changed how they count crime statistics, and some departments didn't report. Politically, what that means is there's some uncertainty here. A lot of people are judging the crime problem based on things they've seen in the news, horrific cases of, you know, homicides, shootings or the increasing disorder they've seen in some cities, such as public drug use and quality of life crimes. And that - those things certainly have increased over the last few years.

SUMMERS: You know, we've all seen these campaign ads and, clearly, Republicans are trying to blame higher crime rates on Democrats. Is that justified and is it working?

KASTE: Well, if you believe that higher crime is created by a pullback by the police - and that's a big if - but if you believe that, then you could argue that local Democrats in liberal cities, people like city council members in places like New York and Minneapolis, Seattle, are responsible because they called for defunding the police in 2020. There was no real defunding of police, but police did pull back in those cities. They lost a lot of officers; morale took a hit. And so, you know, if you believe that's the cause and effect, then you could blame them. But congressional-level Democrats, state-level Democrats, even national-level Democrats have opposed the defund the police mantra since the beginning. They've called for more funding of policing, President Biden, chief among them. So really, what the Republicans have been doing, very - in a savvy way here is linking those people who are on the ballot this year, on the state level, with some of those local, more liberal people who, you know, rallied people to the defund the police cause back in 2020.

SUMMERS: NPR's Martin Kaste.

Given that the last U.S. election was followed by an insurrection aimed at preventing the peaceful transfer of power, it feels appropriate that we end this conversation with the actual nuts and bolts of democracy. NPR's Miles Parks covers our voting systems and threats to them. Hey, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Miles, if we look at threats to election and people's trust in them, what has changed since 2020?

PARKS: Election officials right now, in 2022, are working in a powder keg. The level of pressure and scrutiny is higher than it's ever been before, and that's coming specifically from voters who've been, frankly, radicalized by the rhetoric from former President Trump. For context, just 39% of GOP voters this year say they are very confident in their communities' poll workers. That's down from 60% just four years ago, according to the Pew Research Center. So it's a suspicious, it's a scary environment right now for voting officials, which could also mean those election officials make more mistakes, which can then lead to further distrust. It's a bad cycle.

SUMMERS: Yeah. President Biden and others have argued that this is an existential issue. Here's former President Obama in Arizona last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: And if you've got election deniers serving as your governor, as your senator, as your secretary of state, as your attorney general, then democracy, as we know it, may not survive in Arizona. That's not an exaggeration. That is a fact.

SUMMERS: Strong warning from former President Obama there. But, Miles, is this something that people are voting on?

PARKS: I think that's the big question, especially in down-ballot races, like secretary of state races in places like Nevada and Arizona, where election deniers are running to oversee voting. We know from our most recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say preserving democracy is top of mind when they're casting their ballots. And then there's also a real divide on education. Voters with a college degree are much more likely to say democracy is a big issue for them. So it would not surprise me if there's a connection between places that elect election deniers and places that have fewer voters with college degrees.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: That was NPR's Miles Parks. He's part of a basketball teams' worth of correspondents who are helping us break down the big issues that America is voting on this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: It's CONSIDER THIS from NPR. I'm Juana Summers.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.