Key Issues That Matter for Voters in the 2020 Election

By Natasha Petrenko and Carolina Molina |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020

Katie Polanski, a gymnastics coach at Riverside Brookfield High School, typically worked year-round until the COVID-19 lockdown last spring. She filed for unemployment and faced a hard truth many in the U.S. face -- economic inequality

“I applied for unemployment benefits a couple of weeks after I got laid off,” Polansk said. “It was easy to apply for the benefits, it just took me a little longer to get my benefits because everyone was applying at that time.” 

She received benefits consistently for a few months and returned to work in July. However, Polanski knows that not everyone was as lucky as her to receive her benefits with little to no problem and go back to work.

“There’s a couple of weeks where you’re not sure where your income is going to come from when waiting to get certified,” she said. “They also need to update the registration process, the website is not easy to use and there should be more options available to those who don’t speak English.” 

According to the Pew Research Center, there are differences when it comes to the unemployment rates due to COVID. In May of 2020, the unemployment rate for women was at 14.3% and for men was at 11.9%. There were also discrepancies between minorities and immigrants compared to white Americans. In May the unemployment rate for Black men was at 15.8%, Hispanic men at 15.5%, Asian men at 13.3%, and White men at 9.7%.

Dr. Evan McKenzie, the department head and professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that issues are framed differently between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party and therefore, each party finds the salience of issues contrasting from the other party. 

“There’s a fundamental difference of opinion between [Donald] Trump and [Joe] Biden on what to do with this COVID caused unemployment, the Democrats want to protect workers and consumers, so they want to increase unemployment compensation,” McKenzie said. “Republicans want to shovel money to businesses, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s a different focus, they’re not so concerned about the workers, they’re concerned about the businesses they work for.” 

The economy, health care, and Supreme Court appointments are the top three issues that matter to registered voters the most, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. According to McKenzie, other key issues include COVID-19, quality of government leadership and ethics and framing of racial issues.

“It isn’t very useful to generalize what all the voters want because they are so divided,” he said

The two political parties differ in what issues are important to each. According to the Pew Research survey, 82% of Joe Biden supporters and 39% of Donald Trump supporters believe that the COVID outbreak is an issue that is very important. When it comes to economic inequality, 65% of Biden supporters and 28% of Trump supporters find this as an issue.

COVID-19 Pandemic

Although about 62% of U.S. adults say that the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak has been less effective than that of other developed nations, there is a significant difference in opinion along partisan lines. According to data from Pew Research Center, about 87% of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents say the U.S. response has been less effective and only 34% of Republicans and Republican leaning independents say the same.

“There’s a lot of shared anxiety about this across party lines,” McKenzie said. “Democrats are much more likely to say that the problem is the way it’s been mishandled by the Trump administration whereas Republicans, in many cases, are not as well informed on the extent of the pandemic.”

COVID-19 has been a concern for most people around the world. For this election, it has even caused a surge in mail-in voting with 50.3% of total votes being cast by absentee ballots in the 2020 primaries as opposed to 27.4% in the 2018 general election. 

Erik Garcia, 20, a junior at the University of Illinois at Chicago, expressed some popular concerns about this upcoming election and the effects it will have on everyone living in the United States.

“My biggest concern is that voting centers are clean and follow regulations because COVID-19  is horrible,” he said. “Coronavirus has affected every aspect of my life and I want to be sure that the person in charge is [properly responding] to the situation. Healthcare coverage is also important for me because my parents don’t have insurance, so I need to make sure I’m covered and that I can afford it.”


McKenzie said the idea of the Affordable Care Act came from Republicans which is why the Trump administration is yet to announce an alternative health care plan for the country that doesn’t leave 40 millions people uninsured. 

“Two-thirds of the American public wants to move to some form of universal health insurance,” McKenzie said.

According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 83% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans respond positively to universal health coverage. According to Pew Research Center, in 2020 63% of U.S. adults say that it is the government’s responsibility to provide healthcare coverage. This is up from 59% in 2019. 

Framing of Racial Issues  

“The way the issue is framed for Republicans is very different from how it’s framed for Democrats,” McKenzie said. 

McKenzie explained the differences between how racial issues are framed depending on the political party with Democrats identifying issues at an institutional level as well as the individual level. Republicans, according to McKenzie, are more likely to feel victimized by programs designed to provide economic and racial equity because they think these programs are more likely to harm them. 

According to Pew Research Center, the percentage of adults in the U.S. that say the country has not done enough in ensuring that Black people have the same rights as White people has gone up to 49% in 2020 from 45% in 2019. This percentage has gone up among Black, Hispanic and Asian people, but not among white people. 

“I’m voting because there are so many things going on that I think could and should be improved or at least attempted to be improved,” Polanski said.

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