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Poll: Dangers for both parties on the economy, crime and transgender rights

FILE - Sunrise at the U.S. Capitol, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022 in Washington.
Matt Rourke
FILE - Sunrise at the U.S. Capitol, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022 in Washington.

The economy continues to dominate as the most important issue facing the country, followed by preserving democracy, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Democrats face vulnerabilities when it comes to the economy, crime and whether to ban TikTok, while Republicans risk overstepping on transgender rights and business practices, the survey found.

"The image of the Republican Party has gotten even more extreme than it was" before the 2020 election, said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the survey. "If winning the election in 2024 is predicated on picking up some swing voters in the middle, they're moving in the opposite direction.

"For the Democrats, as much as the progressive wing is allowing President Biden some freedom to move toward the middle, you look at the issues on the economy and crime, and he is not where he wants to be in tying down the middle, either."

The survey of 1,327 adults, including 1,226 registered voters, was conducted March 20 through Thursday, March 23 via live telephone callers to cellphones and landlines, through online research panels and via text message in English and in Spanish. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points, meaning results have a range of about 4 points lower or higher than the number reported.

The top issues facing the country

With inflation stubbornly high and interest rates increasing, there is plenty of economic uncertainty at the moment, and it remains the top issue for respondents in the survey — 31% said so, followed by preserving democracy (20%).

No other issue broke double-digits. Health care was third at 9%, then immigration and climate change at 8%. Crime, gun policy, abortion and education rounded out the topics people were asked about.


The policy priorities, as expected, are different by party — with Republicans and independents more focused on the economy and Democrats saying preserving democracy is tops, followed by the economy, health care and climate change.

Immigration and preserving democracy followed the economy for Republicans.

Biden struggles on the economy and crime

When it comes to the economy, Biden continues to get poor marks.

Just 38% approve of how he's handling it, including just 28% of independents. The White House and Democratic strategists know Biden, who is expected to run for reelection, has to improve in how Americans view him on the economy in the next year and a half before the 2024 election.

Overall, Biden gets a 42% job approval rating. That's about where it had been before his State of the Union address in February. An NPR survey that month, taken after Biden's address, showed him getting a slight bounce. That appears to have receded.

On crime, Biden is particularly vulnerable. Just 35% approve of how he's handling it, including just 27% of independents. There is a lack of approval across some key Democratic coalition groups, too, like nonwhites (37%) and people under 45 (34%).

Even though crime continues to not register as a top issue in polling, most people, by a 68%-to-31% margin, said it is a real threat to most communities and not an issue blown out of proportion by politicians as a way to win voters.


That includes 58% of Democrats and 7 in 10 independents. Notably, nonwhites, who are a pillar Democratic group, are among the most likely to say it's a real threat. That's in line with several core groups vital to former President Donald Trump's political fortunes — whites without college degrees, white evangelical Christians and people who live in small towns.

Republicans have focused on increases in crime and brazen acts like smash-and-grabs and carjackings in big cities across the country.

Republicans vulnerable on transgender rights and business practices

Republican governors, legislatures and candidates across the country have focused on gender identity issues, something they see as a political wedge issue.

There is some evidence for that — 50% in the 2022 midterm exit polls, for example, said society's values on gender identity and sexual orientation are changing for the worse.

And there has been an increase in support for criminalizing gender transition-related medical care for minors, from 28% in April of 2021 to 43% now. Almost two-thirds of Republicans support it.

But Republicans risk going too far. A majority, 54%, still oppose criminalizing this type of medical care, including 56% of independents.

There is also a big split between parents of children who are under 18 and those without kids — 59% of parents support criminalizing the practice, while 59% of people who aren't parents are opposed.


What's more, a majority of respondents said they oppose laws that would restrict drag shows or performances in their states. Earlier this month, Tennessee passed a bill to do just that, while in more than a dozen other states, there are GOP efforts afoot to do the same.

But the majority is not on their side — 58% oppose such laws. Republicans, on yet another issue, stand out against the majority, as 61% support these laws. Just a quarter of Democrats and fewer than 4 in 10 independents do.


It's a similar story when it comes to socially conscious business practices.

Three-quarters said it would be more important to invest their money with companies that make money, but are also mindful of their business practices and impact on the environment and society, as opposed to investing in companies that make the most money regardless.

Even 63% of Republicans said they would rather invest with companies mindful of their impact on the environment and society. Many in the GOP have made ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) practices in companies bogey men.

Some Republicans blamed the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, for example, on these practices, when, in reality, the bank's collapse was the result of bad investments, increased interest rates and depositors asking for their money back.

Younger people, in particular, believe in universal health care

Despite the patchwork health care system in this country, 83% said they believe that all Americans have a basic right to health care coverage. That includes 7 in 10 Republicans.

The disagreement comes in the intensity of that belief — and with who provides it.

Three-quarters of Democrats and 61% of independents strongly agree that health care is a basic right, while just a quarter of Republicans feel that way.

When asked if people think it's the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage, almost two-thirds say yes. That includes 9 in 10 Democrats, a majority (57%) of independents, but just a third of Republicans.

While "government" continues to be the brightest of dividing lines in this country, what also stands out on this question is the generational divide. Three-quarters of members of the Gen Z and Millennial generations say it's the government's responsibility, but just 60% of Gen Xers do, followed by 56% of Baby Boomers and 49% of the Silent/Greatest generation.

The finding is yet another example of younger Americans being more likely to want the government to step in on pocketbook issues, like raising taxes on the wealthy to help close the national debt and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The clock is ticking on TikTok, but there's a risk for Biden

A majority of Americans support a ban on the popular social media app TikTok — 57% said so.

Three quarters said TikTok represents either a major or minor threat to national security. And it's bipartisan — 7 in 10 Democrats and 8 in 10 Republicans see it the same way, though Republicans are more likely to see TikTok as a major threat.

There's a generational divide here, which is to be expected, considering younger Americans are more likely to use the app. Gen Z and Millennials, though they are split, are less likely to support a ban, and they are far less likely to see it as a national security threat.

Fifty-one percent of Gen Z/Millennials oppose banning TikTok, the most of any group, and just 27% see it as a major threat, the least of any group.

Biden has a precarious decision to make on TikTok. Ahead of his expected run for reelection, he has to balance whether to ban something the intelligence community clearly sees as a potential national security risk — or to finesse something less than a ban to stem the potential loss of support among a key voting demographic group that lives online.

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Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.