The 2022 election: What motivated voters and how they feel about the results

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
November 17, 2022, 12:58 PM GMT+0

Many Americans — including many politicians and journalists — were surprised by the results of the 2022 election, with Republicans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll even more likely than Democrats to think both that Democratic candidates did better than expected and that Republicans did worse than they expected. While inflation/prices topped the list of issues motivating Republican voters, abortion was listed as the single most important election issue by the greatest share of Democratic voters.

Reactions to the recent election

Half of Republicans (53%) say Democrats won more seats than they expected, and a similar share say Republicans won fewer than expected. Democratic voters were only a little less likely to express surprise: 44% believe their party did better than expected and 39% think Republicans did worse than expected.

With so many pleasantly surprised by their party's showing in the election, Democrats are quite satisfied about the outcome. Nearly two-thirds are either happy or at least satisfied, and just one in five are disappointed or angry — even though the Democrats look like they have lost control of the House. Republicans, on the other hand, reacted far more negatively: Just one in five are happy or satisfied and two in three are disappointed or angry.

How Biden's approval rating affected vote choice

One reason for low expectations regarding Democrats' performance going into Tuesday's election was the lagging approval ratings of Democratic President Joe Biden. Now, this expectation appears to have been slightly misplaced. Democratic House candidates won the votes of the vast majority of voters who say they strongly or somewhat approve of Biden's handling of the presidency. Even people who say they "somewhat disapprove" of Biden's job performance broke for Democrats by 25% to 16% in House voting; this group was also the least likely to have voted, with 56% saying they did not cast a ballot.

What issues motivated American voters?

Which issues played the largest role in motivating 2022 voters? Inflation tops the list, having been selected as the single most important election issue by 26% of voters, followed by abortion, which was selected by 17%. Members of each party differ in their prioritization of these two issues: 41% of Republicans name inflation/prices as their top election issue, compared to just 10% of Democrats. Far more Democrats — 28% — name abortion as their top election issue than do Republicans (5%).

But the majority of voters aren't just motivated by one issue. Most people say that more than one issue was "very important" to their 2022 vote, and what those issues are varies by party. In fact, of the 15 issues asked about, just two — education and foreign policy — are seen as very important by roughly equal shares of Democrats and Republicans. All others are highly polarized.

In addition to inflation/prices, the following issues were very important to at least three-quarters of Republicans' votes: jobs and the economy, taxes and government spending, crime, national security, and immigration. Beyond abortion, majorities of Democrats say each of the following were very important to their vote: health care, civil rights, civil liberties, climate change and the environment, guns, and education.

Older voters in each party labeled more issues as very important to their vote, with particularly large age gaps among Democrats on climate change and guns, and among Republicans on taxes, national security, and immigration.

– Carl Bialik contributed to this article

Polling by the Economist/YouGov was conducted on November 13 - 15, 2022 among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this Economist/YouGov poll.

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