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The Big Issue That Worries America Now But Didn’t in 2016

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List-en Up

The run-up to the 2016 election seems like a political lifetime ago, and in many ways, the world in which that election took place no longer exists. Some of the issues that drove voters to the polls four years ago hardly register today — many have been pushed to the back burner by entirely new concerns. Using 2016 and 2020 data from the Pew Research Center, Cheapism ranked the issues that matter most today compared with how those issues affected voters four years ago.

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Violent Crime

2020: No. 5
2016: N/A

If one issue stood out as the big issue that worries America now but didn’t in 2016, it would have to be violent crime. It didn’t even rank on the list four years ago, as the era of President Barack Obama ended, but President Donald Trump has worked to make people think about violent crime in the minds of voters, even though crime nationwide remains at historic lows. To a large degree, it’s worked — in part by linking largely peaceful protesters with crime — at least among those already likely to support Trump. Violent crime is a top voting issue to 74% of his voters today, compared with 46% of Biden voters.

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Economy

2020: No. 1
2016: No. 1

Starting with what didn’t change between 2016 and 2020 is the economy — it was the biggest issue then, and it’s the biggest issue now. Four years ago, 79% said that the economy would be in the front of their minds when they voted. Today, that number has risen to 84%.

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Health Care
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Health Care

2020: No. 2
2016: No. 4

The next-biggest issue heading into the 2020 election is health care, which is top priority for 68% of voters. Although a larger percentage, 74%, were concerned with health care in 2016, it placed fourth on the list behind the economy, terrorism, and foreign policy back then. By a margin of 84% to 48%, Biden supporters are far more likely than Trump supporters to rank health care as a top concern.

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Supreme Court Appointments

2020: No. 3
2016: No. 9

An open Supreme Court seat loomed large over the presidential election four years ago too. Although it placed all the way down at No. 9 on the list in 2016, 65% of voters would head to the polls that year with black robes on their minds, just as a nearly identical 64% will today. That’s good enough for the No. 3 spot among top voter concerns, but it’s important to note that the Pew study wrapped up before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

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The Coronavirus Outbreak

2020: No. 4
2016: N/A

In 2016, voters were blissfully unaware their country would soon be ground zero for a virus that would eventually hospitalize its own president. Today, it’s hard to talk about politics without the discussion being framed by the pandemic: 62% of voters are very concerned with the handling of the outbreak. Still, there’s a huge gulf between supporters of the two candidates, with 82% of Biden voters very concerned with coronavirus vs. just 39% of Trump supporters. Here, too, the Pew study concluded before the issue’s biggest news broke, in this case that Trump had tested positive.

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Foreign Policy

2020: No. 6
2016: No. 3

The only dead heat on the whole list is foreign policy, which 57% of both Trump and Biden supporters list as a very important voting concern in 2020. In 2016 it was close, too, with 73% of Clinton supporters prioritizing the issue compared with 79% of Trump voters.

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Gun Policy

2020: No. 7
2016: No. 5

Although there are stark differences in what they generally believe that policy should be, gun policy is a top concern for Biden and Trump voters alike. Exactly half of blue voters prioritize the issue, compared with 60% of red voters. In 2016, the issue was much tighter, with 74% and 71% of Clinton and Trump voters, respectively, calling gun policy very important.

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Race and Ethnic Inequality

2020: No. 8
2016: No. 10

This year, 76% of Biden voters cite racial inequity as a primary concern, which is comparable to the 79% of Clinton voters who said the same four years ago. On the other side, just 42% of Trump voters considered race and ethnic equality to be very important in 2016. Despite the issue’s current prominence, or more likely because of it, that percentage actually decreased by nearly half, to just 24% of Trump voters who now consider racial justice to be a very important issue in 2020.

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Immigration

2020: No. 9
2016: No. 6

Immigration was much higher on the list of voter priorities in 2016 than this time. Even so, both red and blue voters were separated on the issue by roughly the same percentage both years. Then, as now, immigration is more important to Trump voters by a margin of about 15 percentage points.

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Climate Change

2020: No. 11
2016: N/A

The most polarizing issue of all heading into 2020 is not race, COVID-19, or the economy, but climate change. In total, 42% of voters think the issue is very important, but that number falls in the middle of a huge gap between the 68% of Biden voters and 11% of Trump voters who will head to the voting booth thinking about the issue this year. Climate change didn’t make the rankings in 2016, but the environment in general was a major concern with 52% of respondents four years ago.

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Abortion

2020: No. 12
2016: No. 13

For an issue that’s the most or among the most contentious of all, abortion has ranked surprisingly low in the last election cycle and this one. This time, it ranks dead last, with just 40% of the sample citing abortion as very important. That’s down a little from 45% in 2016, when the issue was second to last behind only LGBTQ+ rights, which didn’t even rank on this year’s study.

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The Rest

Several other issues ranked as top concerns in 2016 but didn’t even make the list this year. Social Security, for example, was very important to 67% of voters four years ago, followed by education at 66%, and trade policy at 57%, none of which made it onto this year’s tally. On the opposite side is economic inequality, which is very important to 49% of 2020 voters but didn’t make the list in 2016.

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