ABOVE PHOTO: Linda Brown prepares bags of food to distribute at a food distribution held by the Farm Share food bank, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Miami. Long lines are back at food banks around the U.S. as working Americans overwhelmed by inflation turn to handouts to help feed their families. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
By Hannah Finger
WASHINGTON — Eva Guzman’s expenses have swelled, but she feels comfortable financially thanks to the savings she and her late husband stockpiled for a rainy day. Nevertheless, the 80-year-old retired library clerk in San Antonio limits trips to the grocery store, adjusts the thermostat to save on utilities and tries to help her grandchildren and great-grandchildren get what they need.
It was difficult to raise her own four children, Guzman said, but she and her husband were able to manage. She doesn’t know how young families today stay financially afloat with such high prices for groceries and clothes.
“It’s really gotten worse in this age for a lot of people,” said Guzman, who identifies as a conservative and blames President Joe Biden for inflation and economic instability. “It’s really getting out of hand.”
Like Guzman, 30% of people in the United States consider inflation a high priority for the country, named in an open-ended question as one of up to five issues for the government to work on in 2023, according to a December poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That’s roughly twice the percentage as a year ago, though down from 40% in June, with inflation easing somewhat despite remaining high.
Overall, the economy in general remains a bipartisan issue, mentioned by most U.S. adults across party lines. But the poll finds Republicans and Democrats have sharply distinct views of priorities for the country in the new year. More Republicans than Democrats name inflation, gas and food prices, energy and immigration, while Democrats focus on health care, climate change, poverty, racism, abortion and women’s rights.
Elizabeth Stephens, a 41-year-old Democratic-leaning independent in Houston, recognizes that inflation is an issue right now. But she thinks there are other problems that the government should focus on addressing.
“Inflation comes and goes,” said Stephens, a manager working in learning and development. But issues such as poverty and health care disparities, she said, “are always there.”
“Even if the economy is great, there are still people who are suffering,” Stephens added.
There is broad skepticism from members of both parties that progress will be made on the issues about which the public most cares. In the poll results and in interviews with the AP, many people cite hostile political divisions as part of the problem.
Stephens said the country is so divided that “it seems close to impossible” to imagine there would be progress this year.
Glenn Murray, a 59-year-old in Little Mountain, South Carolina, also called out the distance between the left and the right, wishing that politicians would recognize the “truth in the middle.” But his priorities are different from Stephens’.
Murray, a moderate Republican, thinks inflation and the economy are critical issues and he worries that the U.S. will soon face a recession. But he is also concerned about energy policy, suggesting the nation’s reliance on foreign oil is driving up gas prices, and he describes the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border as “unsustainable.”
“I definitely understand that immigration is what helped build this country … but you have to have guardrails,” said Murray, who works for a university’s audit services. “You just can’t open the gates and let everyone in that wants to come in.”
Named by 45% of Republicans, immigration is one of the GOP’s leading priorities. The Supreme Court recently extended Trump-era pandemic restrictions on people seeking asylum, as thousands of migrants gathered on the Mexico side of the border seeking to the enter the United States.
Roughly 2 in 10 Republicans also name crime, foreign policy issues, energy and health care. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to specifically name inflation, 37% vs. 26%, and gas prices, 22% vs. 7%.
Among Democrats, about 4 in 10 rank climate change and health care, 3 in 10 prioritize gun issues and roughly one-quarter name education and abortion or women’s rights. Roughly 2 in 10 Democrats name racism and poverty.
For 24-year-old Osbaldo Cruz, the country’s minimum wage is insufficient, especially to keep up with high inflation. But the Democrat, who works as an assistant manager at a fast-food restaurant, equally prioritizes climate change and gun policy, issues that have been close to his home in Las Vegas.
Seeing record temperatures and increasing waste, Cruz worries that conditions on Earth won’t be livable in the future. “People pretty much think short term, so we never take the time to invest in proper long-term solutions,” he said.
And while he said he understands the importance of the right to bear arms, he’s concerned with how easy it is for people to get a gun.
Joseph Wiseman, a 52-year-old Presbyterian pastor in Wichita, Kansas, wants the country to prioritize protections for women’s health care, including access to abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and LGBTQ individuals.
“I’m very concerned that basic human rights are under threat,” he said. “The blatant politicization of the Supreme Court and the handing down of that ruling really brought home in stark circumstance how deadly important this is for the livelihood of 51% of God’s children.”
Wiseman was a lifelong Republican up until the past few years, registering instead as a Democrat. He said he worries about the “dangerous” shift toward authoritarianism and Christian nationalism happening in the country, especially within the GOP.
Still, he said he has to be hopeful.
“I have to be optimistic that the threat will be met and that basic human rights can be secured for all,” Wiseman said.
Most of those surveyed say the opposite. About three-quarters of U.S. adults say they are not confident in the ability of the federal government to make progress on the important problems facing the country in 2023, according to the poll.
About one-third of Republicans and Democrats name the state of politics as a critical issue facing the country.
Michael Holcomb, a 35-year-old audio technician in Los Angeles, wants less polarization in the election process, which he thinks leads politicians to be more extreme. But he sees the issue as extending beyond politics.
“I think that it’s more of a cultural problem,” the independent said. “We all have to figure out a way to get past it.”