Ohioans’ Perspectives on COVID, Economy Differ Based on Life Experiences

Sep 15, 2020

Credit M.L. SCHULTZE / WKSU

When people make decisions in their everyday lives, they seldom analyze their choices by running through a checklist of who they are – age, race, income, level of education, or where they live.

But that checklist is important, especially now, in an unusually tense presidential election as Ohioans try to understand how others think and as politicians and campaigns try to manipulate minds.

A recent Ohio poll conducted by the Your Voice Ohio media collaborative and the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron suggests that there is a great deal of agreement on the issues most important to improving life: COVID-19, the economy, health care, racial equity, and income inequality. But those differences in demography – gender, age, education, religion and more – play a role in how those issues are prioritized.

John Green, emeritus director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute and designer of the poll, said polling can help people better appreciate diverse life experiences.

“I hope people can place themselves in these polls and understand people with different backgrounds see things differently because their experience differs. We don’t have to all agree on everything, but we can show some understanding,” Green said. “That is why this type of story is important. It can help people see the big picture, to see that they do belong in one of these groups and gauge if how they feel about something may be influenced by one of these factors.”

“Say, for example, I am an old white man, and I think the economy and jobs are most important. But I understand how women -- my wife, daughter or sister -- may see things differently because the experience of women is different. I hope people can locate themselves and say, 'This is where I fit in and why I might think this way.'”

Voters should also pressure their political candidates to deliver solid information about the issues that matter most to them, to see whether their policy ideas will have a meaningful impact, if elected, Green said.

Below are the issues in order of priority and Green’s observations as to who ranked each issue significantly higher than the statewide average for all people. How might these demographics inform the shift in presidential messaging to racially-charged housing issues and law and order, with a focus on white suburban women?

  1. COVID-19 -- Older people.
  2. Economy -- More affluent and secure people, including white, older, more educated, higher income, married and likely to have regular church attendance.
  3. Health care -- Older, white, more educated, married and not likely to attend worship services.
  4. Income inequality -- Women, white, less income, not likely to attend church.
  5. Racism -- Women, non-white, younger, unmarried.
  6. Food -- Less educated.
  7. Education -- Women, younger, higher income, more education, married, attend church.
  8. Criminal justice -- Non-white, younger, less income, unmarried and attend church.
  9. Housing -- Women, less educated, less income, unmarried.
  10. Mental health -- Women, younger, less income, unmarried.
  11. Peace and security -- Older, more income, married.
  12. Environment -- Younger, unmarried, not likely to attend church.
  13. Infrastructure -- Men, more educated, more income, attend church.
  14. Social services -- Younger, less income, less educated, unmarried.
  15. Addiction -- Men, non-white, younger, less educated, unmarried, attend church.
  16. Immigration -- Men, more income, married.

The poll was conducted by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research from June 24 to July 15. It has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points and involved a random sample of 1,037 registered voters.

THE ISSUES

“It’s no surprise, COVID ranks No. 1,” Green said, referring to recent data from a statewide poll. “When you go across demographic groups, there are changes, but COVID is always near the top.”

The data was collected from a random sample of 1,037 registered voters in Ohio who were polled by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research in a joint project of Your Voice Ohio and the Bliss Institute. The survey was administered between June 24 and July 15 online; the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In addition to using polling to guide election coverage, Your Voice Ohio journalists are participating in online dialogues with Ohioans throughout the state to discuss how those issues affect individuals and communities. The participants were granted anonymity.

In the first round of dialogues in July, journalists listened as participants drove the conversation to one topic: COVID-19, because of the ways it had impacted their lives – health, family, food, jobs, and the ability to vote. Almost everyone had a story to tell and continually brought the discussion back to the pandemic.

In the YVO poll, respondents were asked two different ways to identify the most important issues for them today. In one question, they were asked to rank 16 issues in order of importance; the largest percentage of respondents selected COVID-19.

The economy and healthcare came in next, followed by sustainable income and racism.

Access to adequate food, education, criminal justice and housing were mid-level concerns.

At the lower end of spectrum, the respondents named mental health, international peace and security, environmental protections, infrastructure, public services, drug addiction, and immigration reform.

The poll indicated that no matter how important a voter ranked an issue, they still want to hear more information from the presidential candidates about the issues.

The other method of gauging the respondents' thoughts on the most important issue used an open-ended response form, rather than asking them to rank named issues.

They were asked, "To you personally, what is the most important issue facing the country right now?"

Nearly a third of respondents selected the pandemic, 32.4 percent. But 20 percent of respondents said the most important issue is problems with the political process. Many blamed the process itself or President Donald Trump as the problem.

While nearly 9 percent of all respondents named Trump directly as the most important issue, less than 3 percent named Democrats, liberals or presidential candidate Joe Biden. And among “strong Trump supporters,” 8.9 percent said Democrats or liberals are the country’s biggest problem, while 22 percent of “strong Biden supporters” named Trump as the biggest problem.

Nineteen percent said public order problems such as race relations, unrest and crime are the most important issue; 16.6 percent said the economy is the most important issue; 9.6 percent found domestic issues such as health care are the most important; and just 2 percent named foreign policy problems, such as immigration, as the most important issue.

Green said he was most surprised about how immigration ranked so low in the poll, especially after it was a big issue in 2016, and that racial unrest and inequality weren’t ranked higher, though that may have changed in the weeks since the poll.

“COVID seems to have displaced some of these concerns,” Green said.

VARIATIONS 

“This data is about priorities, not about the attitudes about what to do about the issues. Two could say COVID is their priority but have different ideas about how to fix it,” Green said. “It is important to remember people are looking at the issues through different lenses. Some see COVID as a standalone issue, while others might look at it through the lens of the economic impact or from a healthcare perspective.”

Undecided voters and Biden supporters selected COVID-19 as the most important problem facing the country, by far. Trump supporters also tended to name the pandemic as the No. 1 problem, but the economy came in a close second.

The differences between men and women were small in the poll: Men gave slightly less priority to income inequality and racism than women did. But both sexes indicated COVID-19 and the economy are the two most important issues. People who identified as “other” for gender identity emphasized income, the economy, and health care over racism and COVID-19 as their most important issue.

White people ranked economy and healthcare above racism, and Black people ranked COVID-19 and racism higher than the economy, health care and income inequality.

Married people as a group are more likely to be concerned about the economy and health care, over racism. Single people ranked racism higher than the state average and the economy, health care, or income inequality less than the state average.

Younger people, who tend to be less likely to die of COVID-19, ranked racism higher than the state average but COVID-19 lower than the state average. People older than 45, who may have more health issues, gave more importance to COVID-19 than the state overall. They also cared more about health care and the economy in comparison with the state overall, and cared less about racism.

The most educated people cared more about the economy, and the least educated gave less of a priority to the economy and health care. The most educated people prioritized COVID-19 more than the average.

Income level moderately affected people’s positions. Less affluent people put less emphasis on COVID-19, health care and the economy and more on income inequality and racism. The most affluent cared more than the average about the economy and less than average about income inequality.

“"These demographic patterns may reflect the interests of the haves versus the have nots, with the former seeking to maintain their advantages and the latter wanting to reduce their disadvantages. But the patterns may also reflect a sense that a strong economic recovery will help everyone in the short run by restoring jobs and services, especially to the disadvantaged,” Green said.

In one of the Your Voice Ohio dialogues, a Dayton woman said she wants a president who is more than a Democrat or Republican, who will create “common sense” policies that don’t leave people who work full time in poverty, vulnerable to food insecurity, and unable to take care of their health-care.

“What are the federal laws that allow employers to pay slave wages? Who are the stockholders who allow such policies to continue?” the woman asked.

RELIGION

White evangelical and non-minority Protestants cared more about the economy than COVID-19 and ranked racism below the state average.

White Christians as a whole are less likely than the rest of the state to rank racism as highly important.

Minorities in religious groups care more about COVID-19, racism, and health care.

People without a specific religion and secularists such as atheists and agnostics had views in line with the rest of the state’s averages.

White Catholics cared more than the state average about COVID-19, the economy, and health care.

REGIONS OF OHIO

Ohioans from the northeast and northwest part of the state named the economy as the most important issue, with COVID-19 and health care coming in second and third. Foreign policy was the fourth-most named priority in Northeast Ohio, while access to food was in northwest Ohio.

Central, southeast and southwest Ohioans named COVID-19 as the most important issue, the economy as the second, and health care as the third. Central Ohioans said racism came in fourth, southeastern Ohioans named income, criminal justice and addiction as the next most important issues, while southwest Ohioans named racism and criminal justice as the next-most important issues.

A Columbus-area man said it is “frustrating” trying to balance economy and safety in the context of COVID-19. An Akron-area retiree said after listening to others in the dialogue that she initially cared more about jobs but had changed her thinking: “I was focusing so much on the pandemic. My priority now is listening to what is happening to us with the economy and the effect on the working mom and the children.”

All polls are “snapshots of a certain period of time,” Green said, and so the results, if taken again today, may be different. But the differences regionally in the state could be explained by how the pandemic spread through Ohio, Green said.

“COVID-19 came to the northeast and northwest part of the state earlier,” Green said. “This has to do with patterns of travel. A lot of commerce is east to west, not north to south, so Cleveland and Toledo are more connected to New York and Boston, while Cincinnati is more connected to southern, eastern cities like Baltimore. The pandemic spread east to west, so it took more time to move into the southern parts of the state.”

Also, there are different segments of Ohio culture, Green said. Rural and urban areas may have reacted to the mask and social distancing guidelines differently, varying depending on the outbreaks in their immediate communities at the time.

“Different communities react differently,” Green said.

What you need to know to vote this year

How to register to vote: You can register online here: https://olvr.ohiosos.gov/ You can also download an application, print it, and mail it to your county board of elections.

When to register to vote: To vote in the Nov. 3 election, your application must be received by mail, or delivered to the board of elections office, or online no later than Monday, Oct. 5. Boards of elections are open until 9 p.m. Oct. 5.

Who can register to vote: U.S. citizens, at least 18 years old on or before the next general election, and a resident of Ohio for at least 30 days before the election.

Should I check my voter registration?: Yes. You can do so here: https://voterlookup.ohiosos.gov/voterlookup.aspx

Documents needed to register online: Ohio driver’s license or state ID with number; name; date of birth; address; last four digits of your Social Security number.

How to request an absentee ballot: If you choose not to vote at a public polling location on election day, you can request an absentee ballot in advance. The Ohio Secretary of State will mail applications to every registered voter, which can be completed and returned, or voters can print the form from the Secretary of State website: https://www.ohiosos.gov/publications/#abr Additionally, some Ohio newspapers have printed the form in the daily paper so voters can cut it out, complete it and mail it in.

When to request an absentee ballot: You can request an absentee now for the General Election. The window to request is open until THREE days before the election but in practicality that deadline leaves little time for the postal service to get the ballot to you and for you to return it.

When and how to return an absentee ballot: Your completed ballot must be postmarked, at the latest, the day before the election. Placing the ballot in a mailbox does not guarantee that it will be postmarked. Deliver it personally to a post office and request that it be marked. It’s your responsibility to make sure it has enough postage. Alternatively, you can drop it off in person at your county board of elections during business hours and before the polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. You don’t have to wait until Election Day to deliver.

Can I track my absentee ballot?: Yes. Check out the voter toolkit here: https://www.ohiosos.gov/elections/voters/toolkit/

How, where and when to vote early in-person: Early in-person voting centers, set up by the county board of elections, open Oct. 6, or 28 days before Election Day. You’ll need identification, such as a driver’s license, bank statement, utility bill, pay stub, military or state ID to vote. And depending on public health orders, you may need a face mask.

How to be a poll worker: Ohio relies on 35,000 registered voters to work the polls on Election Day. Because many poll workers are of retirement age, they face increased health risks due to Covid-19. There is high interest in expanding the hiring pool to include younger people. Poll workers receive training. Pay varies by county. You can sign up here: https://www.ohiosos.gov/elections/precinct-election-officials/peosignup/

Renee Fox is a reporter at the Warren Tribune Chronicle. She can be emailed at rfox@tribtoday.com

Want to volunteer for a future dialogue and receive $125 for two hours? Register at the Your Voice Ohio Election 2020 website.

About this project: This is one in a series of stories on issues Ohioans say are most important in this election year. More than 50 news outlets are collaborating in the project under the umbrella of Your Voice Ohio, the nation’s largest sustained, statewide news media collaborative. In five years, Your Voice Ohio has brought more than 100 journalists together with more than 1,300 Ohioans for discussions on addiction, the economy and elections. The project is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and Facebook. The Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes designs and facilitates the dialogues. Retired Akron Beacon Journal managing editor Doug Oplinger directs the media work and can be reached at doplinger@yourvoiceohio.org.