Democrats care most about abortion rights, while Republicans are most concerned about inflation, according to the poll. Independent voters also named inflation and abortion as the most important issues determining how they cast their ballots.
Midterm voters mostly disapprove of President Joe Biden's performance, and a plurality said they think his policies are hurting the country, the poll found. A majority of voters also said they are dissatisfied or angry about the way things are going in the U.S.
The poll was conducted as voters left polling places across the U.S. on Election Day. The exit poll also includes extensive interviews with in-person early voters, as well as telephone surveys to capture absentee voters. (Here’s an explanation of the poll's methodology.)
Inflation and abortion are top of mind for midterm voters
Asked which issue mattered most this year, nearly a third of voters nationwide (32%) said inflation, and just over a quarter (27%) said abortion.
Trailing those concerns are crime and gun policy, each selected by 11% of voters, and immigration, at 10%.
Republican voters Tuesday shared those concerns, the exit poll shows: 44% of GOP voters named inflation as the most important issue, followed by immigration, at 15%. Crime is the fourth most important issue for GOP voters, however, at 12%, after abortion, at 14%.
By contrast, Democrats are overwhelmingly concerned about abortion: 46% named it as the most important issue, followed by inflation, at 15%, and gun policy, at 14%.
Majorities of voters said they trust Republicans to handle crime, inflation and immigration more than the Democrats. However, Democrats enjoy a sizable lead over the GOP on handling abortion.
Female voters are angrier than men about the Supreme Court Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that guaranteed the right to abortion in the U.S. The poll found 46% of women nationwide said they are angry about Dobbs, while 20% more said they are dissatisfied. By contrast, 31% of men said they are angry about the end of Roe.
The economy looms large for voters
More voters reported downturns in their family finances this year than in any midterm since the end of the Great Recession, the poll found.
Forty-seven percent of voters said their families’ financial situations are worse than they were two years ago, according to the poll; smaller shares said their family financials are about the same (33%) or better (19%) than they were two years ago.
Asked about the effects of inflation, a large share of voters (59%) said it caused them or their families moderate hardship, while 20% more said it caused them severe hardship.
Roughly 1 in 5 voters, or 20%, said inflation has not caused them or their families any hardship at all.
Latino voters were particularly likely to say inflation caused them severe hardship. Latino voters were nearly twice as likely to say that as white voters — 29% versus 18%. Roughly 1 in 5 Black voters, meanwhile, said inflation caused severe hardship.
Midterm voters also continue to feel pain at the pump as gas prices in the U.S. hover around $4 per gallon. The poll found a majority of voters nationwide, 65%, say the price of gas has been a financial hardship for them recently.
Most midterm voters feel negatively about Supreme Court decision overturning Roe
The poll found that a majority of voters nationwide are disappointed or angry about the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
The poll found that 39% of voters are angry about the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June and that 21% more voters feel dissatisfied with the ruling.
That's compared to 21% of voters nationwide who said they are satisfied with the Dobbs decision and 16% more who said they feel enthusiastic about it.
The future of abortion access was on the ballot in several states. In the exit poll, more voters nationwide said abortion should be legal rather than illegal: 60% said it should be legal in all or most cases; 36% said it should be illegal in all cases.
More voters say Biden's policies are hurting than helping
Biden fell short in persuading voters of the merits of his administration's policies, according to the poll.
Most voters say Biden's policies are either hurting the country (47%) or not making a difference (17%); just over a third of voters (33%) said the president's policies are mostly helping the country.
The poll found that even some of Biden's core electoral constituencies are unconvinced that his policies are working out. Only about a third of Latinos (34%), voters under age 30 (34%) and independents (35%) said his policies are mostly helping.
Black voters are one of the few demographic groups in which a majority (55%) say Biden's policies are helping the country.
The poll found that two-thirds of voters (68%) do not want Biden to run for president again in 2024, compared to roughly 29% of voters overall who would like him to seek a second term. Fifty-seven percent of Democratic voters said they want Biden to run again.
Most voters have a pessimistic national outlook
The poll found a majority of voters are angry or dissatisfied about the way things are going across the country, with a large majority of Republicans saying they feel negatively about national conditions.
Democratic voters said they are more pessimistic about the state of the country than Republicans said they were in 2018 as they cast their midterm ballots. (Republicans held on to control of the Senate in the 2018 elections but lost control of the House.)
The poll found 33% of voters are angry about the way things are going in the U.S. and 41% more are dissatisfied. Nineteen percent of voters said they are satisfied, and a slim 5% said they are enthusiastic.
Biden's job approval nearly matches Trump's, but base enthusiasm is low
Biden's performance in the White House so far gets good marks from 45% of midterm voters, according to the poll — with a nearly identical approval rating to President Donald Trump's in 2018.
However, one key difference is that Biden lacks the strong enthusiasm from his base that Trump enjoyed. Even during a devastating midterm in 2018, 45% of voters approved of Trump's job performance and 31% of voters expressed strong approval.
This year, just 19% of voters expressed strong approval of Biden’s job performance.
Regardless of party, most Americans agree U.S. democracy is under threat
Seventy percent of midterm voters think U.S. democracy is "threatened," while 28% say it is "secure." Majorities of Democratic voters (72%), Republicans (68%) and independents (70%) all think democracy is under threat.
Midterm voters are split sharply over whether Biden's victory in 2020 was legitimate, with 96% of Democrats agreeing, compared with 29% of Republican voters. More than a quarter of Republicans (29%) say they think elections in their states are not "fair and accurate."