Poll: Inflation Up, Virus Down as Priorities in U.S.

WASHINGTON (AP) -
Trucks line up to enter a Port of Oakland shipping terminal on Nov. 10, 2021, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that management of the coronavirus pandemic, once an issue that strongly favored President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats, is beginning to recede in the minds of Americans. COVID-19 is increasingly overshadowed by concerns about the economy and personal finances — particularly inflation — which are topics that could lift Republicans.

Just 37% of Americans name the virus as one of their top five priorities for the government to work on in 2022, compared with 53% who said it was a leading priority at the same time a year ago. The economy outpaced the pandemic in the open-ended question, with 68% of respondents mentioning it in some way as a top 2022 concern. A similar percentage said the same last year, but mentions of inflation are much higher now: 14% this year, compared with less than 1% last year.

Consumer prices jumped 6.8% for the 12 months ending in November, a nearly four-decade high. Meanwhile, roughly twice as many Americans now mention their household finances, namely, the cost of living, as a governmental priority, 24% vs. 12% last year.

The poll was conducted in early December, when worries about the virus were rising as omicron took hold in the country, but before it sparked record caseloads, overwhelmed testing sites and hospitals and upended travel.

That sentiment reflects the challenge for Democrats at the onset of the election year. The party won the White House and control of Congress in 2020 with pledges to manage the pandemic more competently than the Trump administration. After initially earning high marks — roughly 70% approved of Biden’s handling of the pandemic from late February through mid-July — the virus’ persistence has undermined the new president’s message.

Administration officials acknowledge that the public is growing increasingly weary of COVID-19.

The White House says COVID-19’s waning as a preeminent concern actually underscores its success rolling out preventative measures, including vaccines. It argues that economic jitters now exacerbated by the pandemic eventually will ease.

Still, with Democrats likely struggling to campaign on the idea that they’ve now defeated the virus, the other issues gaining attention among voters pose more immediate political headaches.

Many respondents in the survey said they’re not suggesting the country ignore the pandemic. But compared with last year, higher percentages of people called out other issues, including immigration among Republicans and gun control among Democrats, as pressing in 2022. Some said they were encouraged by early indications that the latest outbreak, while spreading fast, could have milder effects for many.

“I’m hopeful with omicron,” said Samantha Flowers, a 33-year-old community college teacher in Columbia, Missouri, which has its own open Senate seat on November’s ballot. “Even though more people are getting it, the sickness hasn’t been as harsh for most people. Since we’re all going to end up sick anyway, let it be one that we can recover from better.”