What’s Your Top Priority?

Charles Blow’s column in yesterday’s New York Times is both a thoughtful and thought-provoking take on the midterms and what is most prevalent in the minds of voters as they head to the polls.

The Battle Between Pocketbooks and Principles

By Charles M. Blow

19 October 2022

You are never in the voting booth alone.

You bring with you your hopes and fears, your expectations and your disappointments. Your choice is made through a maze of considerations, but it hinges primarily on how the candidates — their principles and their party — line up with your worldview. Would they, if elected, represent and promote the kind of community and country you want to live in? Are they on your side, fighting for you and people like you?

Often, the things that are top of mind as you consider those questions are urgent and imminent, rather than ambient and situational. Issues like the economy, for instance, will almost always take top billing, since they affect the most people most directly.

Anger over abortion can also be potent, and in some races, it may determine the outcome, but it is a narrower issue. First, no person assigned male at birth will ever have to personally wrestle with a choice to receive an abortion or deal with health complications from a pregnancy that might necessitate an abortion. So, for half the electorate, the issue is a matter of principle rather than one of their own bodily autonomy.

Furthermore, at the moment, abortion is still legal in most states. Yes, clinics have disappeared completely in 13 of the 50 states, according to the latest data from the Guttmacher Institute, but for millions of American women living in blue states, abortion access hasn’t changed since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Dobbs.

That is not to diminish the outrage people do and should feel about this right being taken away from them. It doesn’t diminish my personal outrage, nor does it assume that abortion rights are safe in the states that have yet to outlaw the practice.

But I mention it as a way to understand something I’ve seen over and over in the electorate: Incandescent rage, however brightly it burns at the start, has a tendency to dim. People can’t maintain anger for extended periods. It tends to wear on the mind and the body, as everyday issues like gas and rent and inflation push to get back into primary consideration.

I have seen repeatedly how people abandon their principles — whether they be voting rights, transgender issues, gun control, police reform, civil rights, climate change or the protection of our democracy itself — when their pocketbooks suffer. There is a core group of people who will feel singularly passionate about each of these problems, but the rest of the public adjusts itself to the outrage and the trauma, shuffling each issue back into the deck. They still care about these problems as issues in the world, but they don’t necessarily see them as urgent or imminent.

In a New York Times/Siena College poll released this week, voters were asked “What do you think is the MOST important problem facing the country today?”

A plurality, 26 percent, said the economy, and 18 percent said inflation or the cost of living. Just seven percent said the state of democracy, and four percent said abortion.

After the Supreme Court struck down Roe, Democrats saw a measurable shift in their direction, as voters began to say that they were leaning toward the Democrats in the midterm elections. The anger among many voters was palpable; the offense was fresh. But now, that momentum has stalled, and some see a swing back toward Republicans as we get further out from the ruling and worrisome economic news retakes the headlines.

I still believe that anger over abortion will be felt in the midterms. I believe that taking away such a fundamental right feels like a betrayal that must be avenged. I believe that many parents of daughters are incensed at the idea of those girls inheriting an America where they will have less say over their bodies than their mothers had.

But I also know that energy attrition in the electorate is real. I know that historical trends are on the side of Republicans going into the midterms, and even a minor stalling of momentum and erosion of energy could make the already slim chance that Democrats would hold the House of Representatives an impossibly long shot.

In the closing days of this campaign cycle, Republicans are driving home perennial issues: the economy and crime. Democrats are arguing big issues of policy: abortion and protecting democracy. In this battle of pocketbooks and principles, which will win out?

For those with any sense of political vision and history, the policy side must take precedence. Economic issues are cyclical. They’ll always present themselves. But grand issues like bodily autonomy can define generations. And protecting democracy can define empires.

What is the point of a cheaper tank of gas, if it must be had in a failed democracy that polices people’s most intimate choices about their own bodies?

12 thoughts on “What’s Your Top Priority?

  1. My top priority is my family … which is me, my son & his wife & our granddaughter soon to be born. I don’t think either party has a platform that will protect my family. BUT … if I do a pro & con list (which I’ve always done for almost everything) … the Dems have more pros than cons & the GOP have more cons than pros.

    It’s like going to a buffet dinner where there’s nothing on the table that you want to eat but you manage to grab a few rolls & a small salad to make do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree … family ALWAYS comes first. Which is why I am so concerned about the current situation. I won’t live to pay the price, but my daughter and granddaughter will. Sigh.

      Perfect analogy, Polly! A buffet where there isn’t anything that appeals, so you pick an innocuous salad and a bit of bread.


  2. Looking from outside, it seems incredulous that Repughs can win anything given their record over the past number of election cycles. They are not a political party, they are a group of criminals out to take taxpayer money and give it to those who need it least, an Anti-Robin-Hood Party. I mean no insult, or meanness, but if the people of America cannot see what is at stake for the future, they deserve what they get. They need only look at the chaos in Britain to see what is going to happen to the USA. Republicans in America are the equivalent of Conservatives in Britain, Australia, and Canada. Look what Conservayives have done in those countries. This is what Republicans are going to do to the USA, what they have been trying to do for years: Screw the world! The only thing that matters is Money.
    Money will be meaningless when there is no world to live on… and there will be no people to spend it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree. They have done many things that should have literally broken the party, but haven’t, and I don’t understand it either. Apparently the Republican voters in this country no longer give a damn about democracy, about truth and integrity, but prefer a country run like a circus by clowns. I’m coming to think of the word ‘conservative’ as something wicked and evil. I think that by the end of this decade we will be as much of an autocracy as Hungary or Russia.


  3. Jill, good share. There are a lot of why questions to be asked of incumbent politicians running for Congress.
    -did you vote for the Inflation Reduction Act and if no, why not?
    -why are you talking up the benefits if you did not vote yes?
    -if you voted no, what do you plan to do about it?
    -why does the Republican Party complain about immigration when a GOP led Congress failed to vote on a bipartisan immingration bill that passed the Senate and why did the former president renege on a deal to make DACA law for $25 billion in border wall funding?

    I think people should focus on protecting our democracy and civil rights from folks trying to restrict them. If a party must embrace a Big Lie to get elected, then the other statements they made need to be taken with a grain of salt. In other words, if that is lie, then likely other things are untruthful. As a former Republican, I would encourage people to not vote such, as a message that truth and democracy matters need to be conveyed to the GOP leadership. Keith

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well spoken, my friend, and your suggestions for questions to incumbents in Congress is absolutely spot on. I would like to hear Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Warren Davidson, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert and so many others look me in the eye and answer those questions. And you’re right … if they will lie about something like the integrity of the 2020 election that has already been verified, then they will lie about anything else as it suits their purposes. The economy will stabilize and meanwhile we can learn to tighten our belts a bit … I cut my grocery bill this week by 1/4 just by cutting out some non-essentials … most people could do the same. But if we lose our democracy, if we lose our civil rights, if we turn a blind eye to the devastating effects of climate change … there may well be no going back, no stabilizing, no fix.


  4. It pains me to say, but the majority will vote according to their immediate needs. Who worries about climate change when their next meal is primary concern, or how to get to work when they can’t fill up the tank…. “it’s the economy stupid” holds true i’m afraid.
    The pundits got it right, Repugs will take back the house and senate. Of course they’ll attempt to impeach Biden but won’t get anywhere. Bunch of knuckleheads.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: What’s Your Top Priority? | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

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