According to a new WBUR poll, voters in this region say health care, immigration, jobs and the economy, as well as climate change, are the issues they most want 2020 presidential candidates to address.
The Poll Concept
The idea for the poll came from Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University, who for a long time has been following, studying, blogging about — and often criticizing — political journalism in this country.
Rosen's biggest complaint is that too much political coverage is "horse race journalism," overly obsessed with the polls — who's ahead, who's behind — and what the so-called political experts are saying.
Rosen argues there's a lot of this kind of coverage because it's so easy to do: Commission a poll, talk to some experts, then report on it. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
There is certainly a place for polling. (WBUR regularly commissions political polls and reports on them.) But Rosen argues that election coverage would be enhanced if more of it were inspired by what matters to voters — something he calls "The Citizens' Agenda."
"The citizens' agenda is an attempt to reposition election coverage closer to the concerns of the average voter," Rosen says.
In practical terms, this means doubling down on what political journalists do best: identifying issues and stories that matter most to people — and reporting on them.
Rather than just focusing on what the candidates are saying, on the pundits and the polls, WBUR — inspired by Rosen's concept — intends to frame its reporting around the question: To what extent are the candidates responding to what people want?
And that effort begins with asking voters a simple question: "What do you want the candidates to talk about as they compete for your votes?"
We've been asking that questions to voters across New Hampshire, home to the first-in-the-nation primary.
"I want to hear people who are really honest about gun control," says Susan Geier, a Democrat from Newmarket, New Hampshire. "I think that's really important — after yet another mass shooting."
When asked the same question, Wayne Macallister, a union iron worker from Manchester, New Hampshire, says, "Labor is the biggest talking point for me. I want to know what their stance is."
And Madeline Egbert, a Democrat from Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, talks about health care.
"Our daughter is considered disabled, so that's a really big thing for us," she says. "[We want] some kind of medical insurance for everybody."
The Poll Results
As part of this effort, WBUR commissioned a poll (topline results, crosstabs) that probed voter concerns in two ways. First, it asked them to choose from a list of issues (health care, immigration, gun policy, etc.) Second, it provided an open-ended question that asked simply: "What do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for your votes?"
"By far the top issue [among Democrats] is health care," said Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey of some 600 voters within the region. According to Koczela, Democrats and independents identified health care as the most important issue.
"You also see that reflected in how the debates are conducted and what the Democrats spend the most time talking about," he said.
"Our daughter is considered disabled, so that's a really big thing for us. [We want] some kind of medical insurance for everybody."Madeline Egbert, a Democrat from Mont Vernon, N.H.
Bernie Sanders, of course, has put health care at the center of his presidential campaign with his call for Medicare For All, which the Vermont senator says would "guarantee health care to all people as a human right, not a privilege."
Elizabeth Warren has endorsed the idea, while more moderate Democrats, including Joe Biden, advocate strengthening the Affordable Care Act and adding a public option. Either way, New Hampshire primary voters are apt to mention health care more frequently than any other issue.
"In our family, we have a lot of people who work in health care," said Katie DeAngelis, a Warren supporter from Epping, New Hampshire. "We've also had a lot of medical issues that have really opened our eyes about how important health care is for everyone, regardless of what kind of insurance they have or how much money they have."
Not surprisingly, our poll found substantial differences between Democrats and Republicans. While Democrats put health care atop their list of concerns, they also identify a number of other issues (see below) they want candidates to address, including jobs and the economy, Social Security and Medicare, immigration and climate change.
"Democrats select a pretty broad array of stuff," according to Koczela, who says, by contrast Republican voters focus on two main issues.
"The top one is immigration, and the other one is the economy," he says. "[This] makes a certain amount of sense because these are the two things Donald Trump spends the most time talking about: how great the economy is, and of course, all of the ongoing policy and political battles over immigration."
Although he has so far failed to deliver a promised thousand-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he said Mexico would pay for (it has not), the president continues to push hard-line immigration policies that remain a galvanizing cause for his Republican supporters.
"It seems like we're moving away from the rule of law, and we're moving into emotional law," said Joe Romano, a Republican from Wilmington, Massachusetts, who runs an appliance repair business. Romano is troubled by proposals from several of the Democratic presidential candidates to decriminalize illegal border crossings. He believes the president is right on immigration.
"The country is based on immigrants — I get all that," Romano says. "My grandfather came over when he was 15. But he came through legally. [Today, we have] veterans not getting the care they need. They're out on the street, and we're giving precedence to illegals. That's a huge issue for me."
The WBUR poll found immigration is also a key issue for Democrats, which suggests the immigration battles are nowhere close to being over.
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This segment aired on September 11, 2019.