2022 midterms: What we know about voters after May primaries – USA TODAY


The midterms may not be over, but there’s already a lot to learn about what voters see as important, from abortion to inflation to Trump’s continuing shadow on the GOP.

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  • Many voters are concerned about the economy, abortion rights and gun control
  • Republicans started the year positioned to win, but recent issues could boost Democrats.
  • With inflation near 40-year highs, voters told USA TODAY they’re worried about their wallets.

Viola Owens decided long before the mass shooting in a Texas elementary school that stopping gun violence would be her top issue in the midterms this year. 

The 61-year-old Philadelphia resident has lived in her Mount Airy neighborhood for 34 years. It felt safe for most of that time, but she said there have recently been four to five shootings a month. 

“It’s never been this bad,” she said. “It’s getting worse, and it’s getting so easy for kids to get guns – legally and illegally. They’re purchasing them right on the street.” 

The foster mom of two teenage boys said she feels also the pinch on grocery prices and would otherwise choose the economy as her top issue if not for the gun violence she lives with every week. 

Owens is just one of the hundreds of thousands of voters across America who chose candidates in May primaries ahead of the November general elections. Those choices now shed light on what the rest of this campaign season could look like — and the issues that could ultimately decide control of Congress.

Some of the most prominent issues include abortion rights, with a leaked Supreme Court opinion draft signaling the court will likely overturn Roe v Wade soon; inflation, with price increases across the country at the fastest rate since 1982; and gun violence, an issue that’s come particularly to the fore this month after the brutal slaying of 19 children and two teachers at an Uvalde, Texas elementary school and the racially motivated attack on a Black neighborhood in Buffalo.

Gun violence and gun rights

In Pennsylvania, Owens said nothing is as motivating as choosing candidates who she believes will stop gun violence.

In the primary, that meant a slate of Democrats, including unopposed gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, who lost the U.S. Senate primary to John Fetterman. 

Owens said she will back Fetterman and other Democrats in the fall because “it doesn’t seem like Republicans care about stopping shootings in Philadelphia.” 

Philadelphia has seen 697 nonfatal and 173 fatal shooting victims this year as of May 26, 2022, according to data from the city controller’s office. The victims are typically Black men younger than 30. 

“We have so many killings every day,” Owens said. “Our kids are dying.” 

Nationwide, there have been 213 mass shootings in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive — and just 145 days of the year. The Archive defines mass shooting on events with four or more people shot or killed, not including the shooter.

Abortion rights

Melody Bray, who’s running to be Georgia’s state senator for District 38, previously told USA TODAY she hopes the news that Roe might be overturned will embolden voters at the polls.

“My concern with being (in) an overwhelmingly Democratic district was that people weren’t going to turn out,” said Bray. “This makes me feel like more people will be energized to turn out.”

It’s likely the issue of abortion will mobilize voters to some extent, particularly young voters who oftentimes vote based on major national issues, according to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE. 

In 2018, after the Parkland shooting, 43% percent of young people (aged 18-24) said that the Parkland shooting influenced their vote choice “somewhat,” and 20% said it affected their vote choice “a lot,” according to CIRCLE. In 2020, after George Floyd was killed by police, young people said racism and violence against people of color were among the top issues that would influence their vote for President.

Some 67% of young people believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, CIRCLE says, so it’s possible the issue spurred young voters in May’s primaries — and could in future elections.  

Abortion rights groups like Emily’s list, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice America say they will spend $150 million on the midterms in races in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, California, Kansas and Wisconsin.

They’ve also mobilized to uplift candidates like Cheri Beasley, who won her May Senate Democratic primary in North Carolina, and Stacey Abrams, who won, unopposed, the Democratic nomination for Georgia’s governorship this month.

“That’s why these women are running, because they do see the voters in Georgia and North Carolina – the women of color, the low-income women – they see them as whole people,” Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler previously told USA TODAY. 

Trump

In many states, Republican primaries were a test of former President Donald Trump’s power in the party – with mixed results.

Georgia Republicans offered a big rebuke to Trump’s myth of a stolen election when they voted to keep Gov. Brian Kemp instead of the Trump-endorsed challenger David Perdue. Kemp walloped Perdue by more than 50 points.

On the other hand, Doug Mastriano, a leading 2020 election denier, won the GOP nomination for Pennsylvania governor in a crowded field that started with more than a dozen candidates. He led the polls throughout the race and received an 11th hour endorsement from Trump.

A deeper look: In primaries, a spotlight on the unhealed wounds of 2020 – and the ongoing divisions in America

In Ohio, GOP Senate candidate J.D. Vance won a three-way race, and analysts said Trump’s endorsement gave him a boost. 

Steve Stevers, a Republican voter from Ohio, said he would normally vote for whomever Trump endorsed. 

“But I’m not so sure about J.D. Vance,” he said. “I just don’t know much about him. All of a sudden, he was there.”

Stevers is usually a reliable vote for Republicans, but “nothing is for sure” this year, he said. 

“The economy and gas prices are the No. 1 thing I’m concerned about,” he said.

Inflation is around 40-year highs; consumer prices jumped 8.3 percent in April from the previous year, squeezing Americans on everything from surging gas prices to meals at home.

“I’ll vote for whoever I think has a plan to fix it,” Stevers said.

‘I go hungry’: What parents are sacrificing amid soaring inflation to feed their families

Inflation

Dee Wynn, a 61-year-old Republican retiree in Alabama, is focused on the economy. She’s particularly concerned about the stock market and healthcare costs. 

“My investments have went way south since January. It’s concerning,” she said. “At some point, I’m going to have to live on my 401K and investments.”

The S&P 500, a major stock index that, in some fashion or other, is present in many Americans’ retirement accounts, is down about 13% so far this year. That includes an eight-week losing streak that included the entire time period of the May primaries.

And economists have increasingly warned of a possible recession soon, albeit a relatively mild one.

Though Wynn is a Republican, she doesn’t always vote for the GOP. But she’s likely to vote for Republicans in November if the economy is still struggling, she said. 

Celebrities

Celebrity candidates — who often climbed to fame outside political circles — gained solid traction in May. That includes Fetterman and celebrity surgeon turned TV star Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Herschel Walker in Georgia, and others. 

Outsiders and celebrity candidates aren’t new. That same path was traveled by Trump, former President Ronald Reagan, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others

“Traditional resumes are not resonating,” said Berwood Yost, director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Celebrities? Outsiders?: Oz, Fetterman (and Trump) put fame to the test in Pennsylvania primary

It’s partially driven by voters rejecting the political class in favor of celebrities they find easier to connect to and trust, he said. 

“Focus groups show the same sentiment – nobody is happy with government. Nobody is happy with politics as usual,” Yost said. 

Jeanene King, a 64-year-old independent voter in Arkansas, fits that description. 

“Everything is so out of whack right now,” she said. “I blame both parties.”

Turnout, turnout, turnout

In Georgia, voting advocates worried about the effects of a new law in suppressing turnout, especially among voters of color. 

But while there were some concerns across the state, including voters who were turned away and other problems, Georgia saw record early turnout in its primary elections this week, a possible sign of enthusiasm among voters.

That’s especially significant because the parties sometimes struggle to turn out their voters in midterms, when the lack of a presidential race on the ticket can keep voters from feeling the same level of motivation.

Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state in Georgia (who won his primary Tuesday night against a Trump-backed challenger), said that early voting hit new highs in the Peach State this year.

More than 850,000 Georgians voted in the three weeks of early voting this year, up 168% from 2018 (the last gubernatorial primary) and up 212% from 2020 (the last presidential primary year), according to the secretary of state.

‘Red flags for November’: Some voters in Georgia primaries frustrated by election changes

Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at cwoodall@usatoday.com or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

Contributing: Ella Lee, Mabinty Quarshie, Merdie Nzanga

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