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Both parties think the other will destroy America, NBC News poll finds

Ahead of the midterms Democrats and Republicans really think the same issue is dominant: the fate of the nation.
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WASHINGTON — The 2022 midterm environment is full of a complicated set of issues. Talk to voters and you’ll hear about inflation and the economy, abortion, the January 6 insurrection and the continued presence of Donald Trump in politics. So what exactly are this year’s midterms about?

The poll asked self-identified voters from both parties, “what is the most important issue facing the country,” and the answers show some clear divides.

For Democrats, the No. 1 issue is “threats to democracy.” Three in 10 self-described Democrats chose that answer, which likely reflects their concerns about supporters of former President Donald Trump and how some of them still refuse to acknowledge the legitimate results of the 2020 election.

Another 15% of Democrats chose “abortion,” an issue that has grown in prominence since this summer’s Supreme Court decision that removed the Constitutional right to that procedure. And another 13% each chose “climate change” and “cost of living” — inflation, of course, has been a dominant news topic this year.

Republicans see a different plate of topics. Their top issue, at 29%, is “jobs and the economy.” That’s a pretty broad topic, but not exactly a surprising one. Even with relatively low unemployment, there are concerns a recession is on the horizon and recent weeks have been hard on the stock market. Notably, however, that issue is not in the top three for Democrats.

Next on the list for the GOP is “immigration and the border” at 20%. Like climate change for the Democrats, that issue is consistently a hot topic for Republican voters. And coming in third for Republicans is “cost of living” at 16%.

It might be surprising that “cost of living” does not rank higher for voters of either party, especially considering the news coverage the topic has gotten. But it may be a sign that inflation, which has been high for more than a year now, has seeped into the background noise of everyday life. Is it on people’s minds? Yes. Is it driving votes? The poll suggests less than other issues.

The NBC News poll also asked what the election is about in a different way. In open-ended questions, it asked voters who favored a Democratic- or Republican-controlled Congress what one message they want to send with their vote.

For Democrats, abortion stood out above the other topics. Among those favoring a Democratic-controlled congress, 23% said “protect women’s rights” was their top message. Second on the list was the more basic request that Congress “be more effective” at 20%. And coming in third at 9% was voters asking that their elected representatives “be more bipartisan.”

Among Republicans, the top message was a combination of “fix the economy and reduce inflation” — 19% of those who favor Republican-controlled Congress want to send that message. Three other messages tied in second place at 9%: “be more effective,” “focus on problems within the United States,” and “save the country.” (Though, it should be noted, “be more partisan” was next in line with 8%.)

Those numbers suggest two distinctly different electorates getting ready to cast votes based on very different topics — one focused on threats to democracy and abortion, the other eyeing the economy and immigration. This was actually a trend we saw in last month’s NBC News poll as well.

But take a step back and look beyond simple issues at the broader perspective and a different picture emerges, one that shows Democrats and Republicans really think the same issue is dominant: the fate of the nation.

The poll asked voters whether they believed the Democratic or Republican Party agendas “pose a threat that if not stopped will destroy America as we know it.” And here the people from both parties agree, the other side’s plans are a serious danger.

When asked if the Republicans' agenda will destroy America, 81% of Democrats say that describes what they believe “somewhat well” or “very well.” On the other side of the aisle, 79% of Republicans say their view of the Democratic agenda describes their beliefs “somewhat well” or “very well.”

Those are remarkable numbers for a few reasons.

First, views of members of the two parties are almost mirrored images of each other. Democrats and Republicans agree on very little except when it comes to the other’s party’s plans — which they equally seem to agree are simply awful.

Second, members of both parties seem to view the stakes of this election existentially, life or death for the nation. When you see elections in those terms, the vitriol is bound to be intense. It’s hard to shake hands at the end and vow to do better next time, if, in the minds of your voters, there may not be a next time.

And for whichever side does win, those apocalyptic views suggest governance is going to continue to be very challenging. In a country that has settled into a 50/50 split between the two major parties, compromise is essential. It’s hard to imagine how you compromise with opponents you believe are bent on destroying the nation.