THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good morning and welcome to the latest briefing in the Washington Foreign Press Center’s 2022 U.S. election midterm series. I’d like to welcome our regular members as well as overseas journalists. My name is Jen McAndrew and I am the moderator.
First, I will introduce our briefer and then I will give the ground rules. For today’s briefing, we welcome Mohamed Younis, editor-in-chief of Gallup, one of the oldest and most respected analytics and polling organizations in the United States. Mr. Younis will discuss the latest indicators, trends, and issues that will put the 2022 midterm elections into context. I’d like to thank Mr. Younis for sharing his expertise today.
And now for the ground rules. This briefing is on the record. The briefer is an independent expert, and the views expressed by briefers not affiliated with the Department of State are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. Government. Participation in Foreign Press Center programming does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation of their views. We will post the transcript of this briefing later today on our website, which is fpc.state.gov.
Mr. Younis will give a presentation and then we will open it up for questions. If you’d like to ask a question, you can use the raise-hand button. If you are called on, we will ask you to unmute yourself to ask your question. Please keep your question concise as we’d like to get to as many as possible today. Once you are finished asking your question, please remember to mute yourself again. Participants can also submit a question using the chat feature and we’ll take a few advance submitted questions as well. Today’s briefing will conclude at 11:00 a.m., and due to limited time, we will not be able to get to all the questions today.
And with that, I will pass it over to Mr. Younis. Over to you.
MR YOUNIS: Okay. Thank you, Ms. McAndrew, and thank you to everybody joining us today. I’m Mohamed Younis, the editor-in-chief at Gallup. Gallup was established in 1935 here in the United States by Dr. George Gallup, who is famous for figuring out a new way to sample respondents in a poll to project results across a larger population. People tend to think of us when it comes to elections, but we actually haven’t done a lot of forecasting of elections in several electoral cycles, and how – we can talk about why later.
Our focus is really to try to understand how American society is changing over the longer term on kind of the key issues and dimensions of what Americans care about and really what drives their decision-making processes, whether it’s in voting or in the economy and the kind of job they want, et cetera.
Today I’m going to talk about a couple things. Actually, before I mention that, before I mention today’s agenda, I should also mention that since 2005, Gallup has been polling the entire globe’s population through the World Poll. So we have a lot of data and research that we are doing across 150-plus countries annually where we are trying to understand those same issues within probably your country of focus or residence. So if your interest spans beyond the U.S., I wanted to make sure that you also know that we have tons of data and research and content on a lot of parts of the world, not just the U.S.
Today’s presentation – I’m going to really do two things. First of all, because of what’s happening in Europe, I thought it would be kind of ridiculous to talk to you all and not mention Ukraine and American public opinion on that topic and the relationship with Russia. So I’ll begin with two very quick slides on that topic and then I’m going to move on to a series of slides that really get to a lot more domestic-focused issues for the U.S. public themselves, how they see life in the U.S. unfolding, the things that they care about when they come to vote, the major issues of importance to the general public.
So with that, I’m going to begin to share my screen, and I will put it on slideshow and hopefully you can see my slide. It’s just the —
MODERATOR: Looks good.
MR YOUNIS: Great, all right. So just to start things off, let’s talk about what’s happening in Europe. These data are actually gathered – literally, we came out of the field the day before the invasion of Ukraine actually began. So at the time we asked Americans these questions, there were over 200,000 troops and – and Russian assets, excuse me, military assets surrounding Ukraine. And the entire world had already sort of shifted their focus to what is coming next in Ukraine.
On the left, you’ll see our favorable rating of Russia as a nation. We asked this question of pretty much all nations in the G20 and – plus a few more. The very or mostly unfavorable perception of Russia was actually held by 85 percent of the American public right before this invasion took place. You can see in the trend obviously this goes back to 1989 when we – it was still the Soviet Union and we were asking it in that – using that language. This is really a very low point in terms of Americans’ perceptions of Russia as a nation. And again, I stress this predates the invasion. Polls that have been taken since then have shown this number only to increase.
It’s important to keep in mind that the other nation that tends to score unfortunately very high on this metric is China, and in the same poll, while Russia had 85 percent unfavorable perception or rating from the U.S. public, China actually had 79. It was a little bit lower than the negative perceptions or unfavorable views of Russia. On the right, you can see the same question for Ukraine. And again, it’s important to keep in mind that this was before the invasion of Ukraine took place and really the situation in Ukraine becoming the central focus of the American public, which is a very rare thing here in the United States, frankly, for foreign affairs to be the central focus.
There we go. This is another really critical question. We asked it for much longer than 2004, but I wanted to show you this trend. And this is a question of asking Americans to list the possible threats to the vital interests of the United States in the next 10 years, and we give them a list of potential answers, and we ask them to tell us whether that is a critical threat, not important threat, et cetera, on a scale. So the percentage of Americans that said Russia’s military power is actually a critical threat to the United States, as you can see, was at 59 percent of Americans who held that view – again, a relative high in our trend and also important to once again stress that this took place – this poll took place right before the invasion actually escalated and was conducted. So those perceptions are only likely to increase. And this comes from a long list of critical threats that we publish on our website, which I’ll share with you at the end if you’re interested in all of the other threats people are focused on here in the United States.
Okay. So looking away from foreign affairs now and just focusing on this upcoming election, I know a lot of your wonderful questions that you sent ahead of time are sort of very technical questions about the electoral matchups and process itself. I’m sure that other speakers in this series will be much more qualified than I to discuss that. But I’m hoping that what our data can provide you is a broader picture of what the American public’s mindset is going into this election.
That being said, one thing you’ll hear me say a lot today is it is still really a political lifetime before the midterm election is really the focus of the American public. So it’s important to keep in mind that even though we see some very consistent trends and a pretty coherent story of where things are today, things can very dramatically shift, particularly because of the economic situation being so volatile here in the U.S., and that could likely have a really big impact on the midterms.
But this is a question we’ve asked at least every month now for decades and decades and decades at Gallup, and it is essentially asking Americans whether they are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. You see that we are at a relative low point in American history. Really since the first few years after 9/11, it’s been a pretty steep decline in how Americans feel about things going in the United States. We saw a really dramatic resurgence when things started opening up again after the lockdown of the coronavirus and the economy began to pick up. But again, very quickly, that’s dropped back down, and at this point, 17 percent was our final reading. The new reading I was just looking at this morning is just a few points higher than that.
So overall, Americans tend to be very dissatisfied with public life in the United States. They’re not dissatisfied with their own lives, but they’re satisfied – they’re dissatisfied with the state of public affairs in the country. And that dichotomy is very dramatic in the United States, and it’s very consistent across regions and states in the country. People are much more likely today to assess their own lives in a much more positive manner than they are to assess the situation of things in the country as a whole.
Leadership has really been struggling in the United States to garner confidence by the public. And this is not something the Biden administration is particularly challenged with; it’s really something that we’ve seen since the Obama years. There is a huge, as you probably all know and have written about, moment of hyper-partisanship here in the United States. We don’t see dissatisfaction with national institutions more prominently pronounced than with Congress. On the left you’ll see – this is Congress’s job approval from the public, and right now at 18 percent of Americans approve of the job that Congress is doing or how they’re handling their job. They get the lowest approval of any institution in the United States. It’s important to note, though, that Americans are much more likely to approve their own member representative of Congress in the actual legislature than they are of the body as a whole.
On the right you see our most famous metric, presidential job approval. President Biden right now is at – actually, 41 is the new number – 40, 41, it’s statistically no different. A few things to note. First of all, you’ll see the decline from starting off at a relatively very high point of 57 percent. We’ve seen that decline steadily, and we’ve seen the decline even more dramatically when it comes to specific issues, like handling the coronavirus or foreign affairs or handling the economy.
But all of the approval ratings of President Biden on all of those metrics don’t veer very far from that 40 percent. So overall, he’s not doing phenomenal, but it’s also important to keep in mind that he’s having a trajectory that’s very similar to what we saw with President Obama. The trajectory of President Trump was unique in that it really just started flat and pretty much stayed flat at 40 percent.
But the political polarization among respondents – that is, Democrats being more likely to say he’s doing a good job versus Republicans being more likely to say he’s doing a bad job – is just as pronounced today as it was in the height of the partisan moments of the Trump years. So that’s something that, even though the rhetoric has changed, that political division in terms of at least people assessing the President’s job hasn’t changed a lot.
The economy is always the most important issue in any election in the United States. It’s been sort of one of the mainstays of American political research. It’s been a consistent finding now for generations. When you ask Americans what’s most likely to influence you in the vote, it’s always the economy, terrorism and national security, and these days it tends to be response, obviously, to the pandemic and public health concerns.
But let’s look at the economy. Here on the left is our economic confidence index, and it’s based on two questions basically assessing the situation today economically in the United States and where people think things are going. What’s really fascinating about these two numbers next to each other is despite the fact that most Americans are saying now is a good time to find a job, and unemployment is actually at a generational low in the United States, people’s economic confidence is still in the negatives. It is improving a bit, but certainly the latest events that we see in Europe and all of the economic reactions to that, and the potential impact on gas prices, are not likely to drive this number up very high in the next immediate several months or the immediate future.
So we’re at a very unique conundrum right now in the American economic psyche, where unemployment is very low, and that tends to be a huge focus of the American public. I should obviously remind you all that the largest employer in the United States is the private sector, so the state of the private sector is really a very important litmus for how strong the economy is going, at least from the perspective of workers. So things are going great for workers. Everyone is understaffed, every major business in the United States now is hiring, people are getting – are more likely to change jobs because of opportunities than they have in generations.
But when you look at the overall economy, people have a lot of concerns. And those concerns primarily focus on inflation. So this is the question on the left, where we ask Americans to name the most important problem facing the country, and they can say anything. They can say Mickey Mouse. A lot of them don’t; a lot of them will say the economy, terrorism, immigration, et cetera.
What I’m showing you here on the left is people that mentioned inflation, and you see that in 1981, 52 percent of Americans volunteered that inflation was the number-one problem facing the country. Today, actually this number is a little higher. We were just looking at it this morning; we’re always getting new numbers in. It’s about at 20 percent right now. So 20 percent of people in the United States, when asked what’s the most important problem facing the country, will volunteer inflation.
The more concerning metric – and of course, that’s important to note, because we haven’t seen those numbers in generations in the United States. But the more important metric is this one on the left, and that question is essentially asking Americans to project over the next six months whether they think inflation will go up a lot to a little, will stay the same, or go down. And what you see here is 8 in 10 Americans are saying that they expect inflation to go up a lot to a little. Again, these numbers predate the invasion of Ukraine, they predate the American public’s focus now on energy prices and the impact of the conflict on Americans’ own pocketbooks. Obviously, nothing compared to what other nations are experiencing as an impact. But when we think about the election here in the United States domestically, this is the mindset that you’re dealing with if you’re a leader facing election.
Here is just a sample – and again, of course, we can hopefully share these slides with everybody – here is a sample of what people mentioned as the most important problem. Again, I mentioned that this number is now closer to 20. But I wanted to show you this. Excuse me, oops. Oh no. Okay. Pretend you didn’t see that.
I wanted to show you this: the government and poor leadership. This has actually been the most frequently volunteered answer from Americans for the past eight years. When you ask Americans what is the number-one problem facing the country, the number-one thing they’ve been most likely to mention over the past few years – and it’s not a Trump factor; it predates Trump – is poor government and poor leadership. In fact, Americans are so negative on national politics that when we asked Americans what makes you proud to be an American, and we listed a series of things like diversity in the country, the strength of the U.S. economy, freedom in society, the American political system actually came in at last. Sixty percent of Americans said that the way American politics is conducted does not make them proud to be an American. And that’s a really important thing to keep in mind in terms of what kind of narratives voters are likely to find appealing when it comes time to vote and hold leadership accountable.
But again, it’s important to stress Americans are much more positive on their local lives, personal situation, and even their local government. So most Americans have positive views of their state governor, their mayor, but when you ask about Congress and the president, irrespective of what party is leading, it’s a very, very different and much more grim picture.
So I mentioned the economy. The other thing that’s really happening now in the United States, and it’s of historic importance and of political relevance to the election, is the perceptions on race relations. Obviously, since 2020 and a big part of in my personal analysis why the George Floyd case became such a focus, is because America was in lockdown, and more importantly than that, professional sports were not in operation in the United States. If you’ve been to the United States, you know that like most countries, most people are focused on their favorite sports team and less focused on politics as much as they – their lives can allow them to. So the George Floyd case was a really unique moment where Americans really tuned in to the challenge of race relations in the United States that are not new, that are pervasive and well-studied.
Just after that, 57 percent of Americans said that the relationship between black and white Americans was actually bad or very bad. So most Americans are actually describing current race relations as bad. It’s important to keep in mind that this trend goes further – much back than 2001, but despite all of the progress that’s been made in some – many facets of life, whether symbolic or economic and real and grassroots, the perception that race relations is a challenge for the country has really not been higher in modern times. When you ask black Americans this same question, this – these data look even more negative, and voting is really relevant to this.
So one of the questions that are not on these slides that I wanted to share with you is a question we asked in September of 2020 as Americans were preparing to vote, and that question was asking about whether there were any problems where the respondent lives – where the person answering the survey lives – with eligible voters not being able to cast a vote. So that means somebody that should be allowed to vote somehow was not able to vote because of a technicality, or maybe they didn’t know where to go to vote, or maybe they were told you can’t vote in this location. So we asked is this a major problem, is it a minor problem, or not a problem at all in your community.
What’s really shocking, I think, to those of us who are focused on race relations and voting and political rights in the United States, 37 percent of white Americans said that eligible voters not being able to vote was a major problem in their community – again, 37 percent. That response rate for non-white Americans is 67 percent. So you have seven in ten non-white Americans that are saying that where they live, there are people, from their perceptions, that are eligible to vote but not able to vote. And you’re going to hear a lot about voter registration ID laws in the lead-up to this election, and it’s been a longstanding issue I’m sure that many of you have focused on.
Okay. We obviously just heard President Biden give the State of the Union address, and this is really a breakdown of different aspects of life and American satisfaction with them. So this is similar – different than the other question, which is are you satisfied with how things are going in the United States, this is asking are you satisfied with the overall quality of life you can live in the United States.
Another really important question is the opportunity for a person to get ahead by working hard in this country. What you’ll notice is that a lot of these metrics have really taken a hit since the pandemic. So quality of life is down, the opportunity to work hard to get ahead is down, and that’s a really important factor in how Americans feel about the economic opportunities they have in the economy.
The other thing that’s really fascinating is we ask Americans how satisfied are they with how the system of government works, how well it works. Only 30 percent of Americans in 2022 are satisfied with how their system of government works. So it’s really important to keep in mind, again, that you’re talking about a population that’s very down on national government, very disappointed in the national political scene, but to some degree very tuned in to their local and ideological focus.
That being said, it would be highly irresponsible of me as the editor in chief of Gallup to not point out probably the most important metric that’s at a high right now. There’s a lot of focus on Democrats and Republicans and partisanship, and those are very real challenges. But another thing to keep in mind is that we’re also right now at a high time of Americans identifying as independent as opposed to Democrat or Republican. So whether or not Americans – there are a lot of Americans that have strong ideological beliefs, that’s absolutely true, and that tends to drive a lot of the news narrative around politics in the United States, but four in ten Americans actually identify as independents and that number outweighs the ideologues on either side.
The other thing to keep in mind as the economy bears down on people’s thinking here is the satisfaction with the way income and wealth are distributed in the United States. Income disparity has become a major focus of – particularly, of course, the Democratic Party, but today 30 percent of Americans say that they’re actually satisfied with how income is distributed across the United States.
It’s not all Democrat and Republican, though. One of the really big changes we’ve seen during the Trump years was Republicans souring on things they were usually very positive about – like, for example, big business. Today Republicans are more negative on big business than Democrats are.
On the right you’ll see a lot of other policy areas and a lot of really important topics, obviously. Not enough time to go through all of them, but I hope that you all can get a chance to take a closer look at these and focus in on the topics of your focus.
I wanted to end my last slide with just an overall question we ask everywhere in the world, and that’s how confident people are in the transparency of elections in their country. It’s important to note where the United States sits on this list. As probably the election that garners the most focus across the world, only half of Americans actually are confident that the votes are counted honestly in the United States. This has become an even greater problem after the incidents of the last electoral competition and challenge and the January 6th – ending with the January 6th events and attack on the Capitol. But this challenge with U.S. elections and this perception, and America being sort of in the middle of the pack, has been something that predates Obama – goes all the way back to 2006, 2005, when we started asking these questions.
So despite the fact that it’s an election that garners a lot of national and international focus, it’s not – it’s not at the highest list of people across the world having confidence in the process of their elections.
And I just wanted to put this up here in case you all want to see more of our content. You can go to news.gallup.com. That’s where we publish all of our research on American public opinion. We talked a lot today about politics and economics, but we focus on a lot of other issues of focus that basically follow the basic dimensions of life, whether it’s financial, security, how people feel about their local communities, et cetera.
We also hear – since you all are journalists, we have a media inquiry box if you want to speak to a Gallup expert or get more information on if we have data on a topic of your focus. You can email email@example.com and one of our team members will be available to connect you and share what we know.
Jen, I hope that wasn’t too long. I’m going to very much look forward to your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Younis, for that great snapshot of the key issues on the minds of American voters. We’ll now start the Q&A for today’s briefing. As a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, please use the raise hand button or you can submit it in the chat.
To kick us off, though, I’d like to start with an advance question submitted by one of our overseas participants, and this is from Trilce Villalobos from Delfino in Costa Rica, and her question is: “How many times in the last decade has the economy been in the top three of the most important issues considered by voters?”
MR YOUNIS: That’s a great question. I can throw out a number off the top of my head without looking it up. But I will say – and I won’t do that – but I will say it is the most important issue in any election, with the rare exception of when there is a major moment in a conflict the U.S. is facing, and I mean like going back to the Vietnam War, not necessarily the recent war on terrorism.
So how often it shows up on that question, which is the most important problem, is one measure. But when we ask Americans, “Are you going to vote? As you vote, what’s important to you, what are you thinking about?” – whenever we’ve asked that question over the past 80 years, the economy is always the most frequent response. And again, with the exceptions of a few moments during World War II when Americans obviously were much more focused on the U.S.’s involvement in a major global conflict.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have a hand raised from Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News Pakistan. You can unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this. Sir, my question is that – that most of the politicians and world leaders criticize Gallup for inaccurate reporting or whatever they say. And we have seen, like in 2016 presidential elections, even in 2012, President Obama criticized Gallup for inaccurate results. So what are the challenges and difficulties to make a good math and to get, like, good results of the pollsters or whatever it is? Thank you.
MR YOUNIS: Great question. It’s actually a very different exercise than the data we’re looking at now. So what you’re referring to is forecasting outcomes of elections, and to forecast the outcome of an election, it really relies on two things. Number one, your response rate in your survey; and number two, the model that you build for the likely voter in that election. So election forecast, which is what our founder became famous for in the ‘30s and on, really comes down to those two variables that are very difficult to nail.
Two things have happened. So though that’s very different than taking a national poll of people’s perceptions, actually one of – and we check the validity of those metrics in every poll we do, and they’ve been remarkably accurate, really remarkably accurate when you look at vaccination rates, when you look at economic metrics and people’s confidence. It really tracks a lot of things.
So there’s no debate that RDD, which is the phone-based approach, isn’t accurate. The challenge now in U.S. election forecasting is response rates – those two variables. Response rates have shrunk down very low. We have the highest response rates in the U.S. They’re at 8 percent. Response rates used to be like over 50 percent. So the people that are answering the phone are far less and it’s harder to get a broader slice of the population. There’s other ways to get – to randomize your sample. But the real factor that’s changed is the likely voter model, because voting behaviors have changed in the United States. We actually stopped forecasting elections in the final – our final election was between Obama and Romney, if you all remember that. And we made a decision at that point as an institution that we weren’t bringing a lot of value focusing so much of our resources on forecasting an election, because a lot of other organizations had been doing it as well.
And I’m really happy you asked this question, Ali, because there’s a lot of confusion about Gallup and our involvement in this. George Gallup actually found very little value in forecasting elections. If you read his speeches, as I have, he repeatedly would say that there’s not a lot of value in projecting what’s in – everybody’s going to know tomorrow. But the reason he chose presidential elections was because of a methodological reason, because it has a dichotomous outcome, and it was something that was already garnering the public’s focus here in the United States. So his mission wasn’t really to project the outcome of an election, his mission was to prove that sampling methods could be a reliable source of what the public thinks. His – there – his epigraph, his very famous quote that kind of captures his whole life’s mission, was: If democracy is the will of the people, somebody should go and find what that will is. And that was really his passion and it continues to be our passion today.
Even more so, the will of the people in the United States has less and less, unfortunately, been determined by what happens in an election, and there’s been a lot of public opinion data to suggest and prove that people are feeling very disenfranchised from the process. The pandemic changed that a lot, because people were able to vote in ways they weren’t able to vote before, and that’s why we saw a record high of participation in the election itself. So again, for those organizations that are still forecasting elections, the last election was probably one of the most difficult to do, because that likely voter model – there were so many question marks about who was going to turn out to vote than what would usually happen in a traditional setting.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more question, please?
MR YOUNIS: Sure.
QUESTION: Sir, so this is a different world we are living right now. There’s a different crowd on social media and different crowds when you call people at their house, and people are not using landlines now – less people who are using a landline. So how every single survey is legitimate? I mean, because there are different crowds in the social media, I mean, if you go for the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. So I mean, how you make it legitimately that this is going to happen and this is a real survey? Because I have an example in Pakistan, like I have seen your Gallup survey about the Prime Minister Imran Khan. It was so good, but in reality there’s a different story. So I mean, how do you say that —
MR YOUNIS: Okay, actually, just – Ali, let me stop you there. First of all, just to be clear, since we are on the record, I have to say Gallup Pakistan is actually not Gallup, and there’s litigation dealing with that issue. We don’t ask about Imran Khan. We ask about the leadership of Pakistan.
That being said – that being said, you make a really good point in methodology, and the landline issue is – has – is not new. It’s been developing now for over 30 years, and it’s why actually our polls are predominantly based on cell phone, not landline. So we’re – at this point we’re 70 percent cell phone, 30 percent landline. That ratio has been shifting towards cell phone for every major public opinion survey research organization here in the United States, and it’s based essentially on national behavior. So a lot of the metrics that we use to make sure that our samples are representative, a lot of it comes from census data and other external data of sort of the lay of the land. Are people using cell phones? What percentage of people are using cell phones?
I was actually just in a meeting last month where we’re thinking about when we need to bump up that cell phone representation based on the fact that more and more people now are not having landlines. So those challenges are very real. Every article that we publish has a survey method section at the bottom where we explain exactly how we gathered the sample. But the RDD methodology here in the U.S. is pretty well-known. Other organizations like NORC and others pursue a very similar methodology. We’re all members of AAPOR, the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers, and that’s really a self-guided and regulated professional association that sets the standards for what is a legitimately representative poll versus not representative.
You mentioned Twitter and social media. A major challenge in our field is to try to really understand what people think in a country, it’s very easy to hear the loudest voices, and the loudest of the loudest voices always tend to pop up on social media. So taking a poll of social media users is very useful to understand what perhaps those people on that platform think, but to project their experiences, attitudes, et cetera to the general public is very inadvisable, because they tend to be a certain kind of a person. And it’s essentially an opt-in, self-selection kind of a situation.
So you raise really great points, and I encourage all of you as reporters – honestly, there is a lot of really bad data out there, more than ever before. Please, always ask for an organization to send you their methods – methodology information, and if they don’t publish it already on what they’re creating, it’s probably not really well-done work, from my personal experience.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I’m going to go to one more advance question, and then I see we have a number of questions submitted in the chat. But the advance question is from Juliane Schaeble from Der Spiegel in Germany. Her question is: “Do you see in your data a significant gender gap when it comes to the most important problem facing the nation?”
MR YOUNIS: Gosh, that’s a great question. Not as big as you would think. One of the really strange conundrums, honestly, of our work on gender disparities is that there aren’t a lot that come up when it comes to the metrics we are gathering, which are mostly perceptive metrics. The most variance, the largest variance between men and women really arrives when we ask about how women are treated in society. One of the questions we ask everywhere in the world is, are – in your society where you live, are women treated with respect in this society? Women tend to – in the U.S., as they do across the world, are more likely to say no in response to that question. And men are much more likely to present a more positive perception of how women are treated on many fronts than compared to women.
But in terms of the most important problem, we don’t see a huge sort of divergence between men and women. It’s also important to keep in mind that the most important problem is an open-ended question, so a lot of people have tons of answers that don’t necessarily add up to 20 percent of the population. And that’s why you tend to only see those most popular, I will say, problems that are mentioned, and then there are a lot of other questions that we ask about issue-specific things that give us more (inaudible) data.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I’ll go to a couple of the questions in the chat. There’s one from Ishmael Sallieu Koroma from Pan African Visions in Sierra Leone. His question is: “What were the factors that have caused Americans to not have confidence in the elections even though the U.S. has the best democratic institutions in the world?”
And another question from Mien Nguyen from Vietnam: “Do you think the Ukraine crisis will have a big effect in the U.S. midterms, especially with regards to turnout?”
MR YOUNIS: I will answer the second one. Honestly, I don’t – I mean, obviously, I don’t have data to show that. But just on my own personal analysis, I don’t think the situation in Ukraine will impact turnout. I do think the political situation in the United States is going to impact turnout.
A really big question this year is: Will we see the surge we saw in the presidential election last cycle in terms of new people coming into the system to vote that usually don’t vote? One of the challenges in the United States is that voter participation is actually really low compared to most OECD countries. So a big part of why people are not very hot on politics in America is because a lot of people don’t vote in the United States, and that’s always a major question in every cycle.
Another challenge in November is it’s a midterm election and we know that turnout for midterm elections, where people are only voting for their local representative and they’re not voting for who’s president of the United States, tend to have much lower turnout than what we call national elections, where there’s a presidential candidate that’s trying to take over the White House. So those are factors that’ll be in play. I don’t, though, think that the election – the Ukraine war is going to be a major factor.
You asked about confidence in elections and what – even though we have, according to you, the greatest political institutions, people don’t have confidence in the process. I think it’s important to keep in mind two things. First of all, elections in the United States are locally managed. So people’s experiences in voting are actually very different from not only state to state, but district to district. Americans tend to vote – first of all, we vote on a Tuesday, which is very different than many countries across the world and has a lot of sort of income disparity concerns previously, because if you are working on an hourly rate, not every kind of job in the United States affords you the luxury to take time off and still collect as much of your paycheck as you would to go vote. That’s one factor, and it’s not a new factor.
So they’re managed locally. People’s experiences are very different from place to place. But also, the reason people are voting tends to be different from place to place. So it’s really hard to talk about why Americans don’t believe in elections generally because America really is – it’s basically a continent. It’s kind of like when people say, what do Indians think? It’s like, that’s a huge place. There’s a lot of variance in that.
But I will say this: Americans’ perceptions of institutions generally, their confidence in national institutions, has really declined in the past several years as several – maybe, like, 20. The military tends to do the best in terms of having the highest confidence. Even that has now dropped 20 points, and that’s a data point that we captured after the fall of Kabul, which definitely took a hit. But the one institution that really does poorly with the public – and I don’t mean this personally to anybody listening – is the media. Confidence in the media is at a rock bottom in the United States. So people’s perception of politics and the election itself and a lot of government institutions now come from an institution, the media, that people have lost confidence in.
So the narrative around America is failing, American democracy is in crisis, comes from that dynamic. It comes from a dynamic where people will have – a lot of people have lost faith in national politics and politicians. Just like we see – saw across Europe, political leaders will rise on a narrative of, the system is corrupt and broken. Whether it’s Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, their message is essentially the same. Their solutions are the opposite, but their message is essentially the same: The system is rigged, there’s no reason to have confidence in anything, and we need to – we need revolutionary change. I think that dynamic is going to be with us for a time here in the United States. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to see the same kind of dynamics we saw with President Trump or other elected officials. But reform is very much in demand here in the United States, and I say that word – you haven’t heard it often – because leadership in the United States, political leaders never want to talk about reforming a system that they control.
But when you talk to the grassroots, as we do, just the average citizen in America, people are fed up and they want to see change. That’s a lot of what propelled President Obama to office, was this – that’s why his message was change we can believe in. But on both sides of the aisle, people really want to see leaders doing better than that 18 percent congressional approval.
I’ll say also, and I say this – I work at Gallup, but I’m also a human being. I say this as a person named Mohamed and a person who’s originally Egyptian: War tends to unite American public opinion for good or bad. It actually, in my personal opinion, has been for bad. And according to American public opinion, every conflict since World War II has ended up on the wrong side of American public opinion, from Vietnam through Afghanistan.
So we’re also in a unique moment right now, especially today after the State of the Union, where a president has really rallied a nation around a cause they agree to. With the exception of a few ideologues on the right of the Republican Party – on the far right of the Republican Party, Americans are pretty united in the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine and the importance of having a very firm response.
They’re also, however, united in not sending U.S. troops into Ukraine. That’s a really important factor, I think, for you as reporters around the world to keep in mind. And that’s actually not our data, but it’s other really well-gathered data this week. So that’s one factor that you should keep in mind. There isn’t any indication now that that’s sort of going to drive the whole narrative around the election – I would be very surprised if it does – but that is a factor that’s unfolding. But it’s unfolding with a President who’s not doing great in terms of his approval ratings. So at 41, 42 percent, Americans rallying around what needs to be done to confront what’s happening in Ukraine doesn’t necessarily mean support for President Biden and the Democratic Party. And that’s why it doesn’t automatically mean good news for the Democrats in November.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Two more questions, one from the chat and one submitted in advance.
We have Claudia Kramer-Santel from Germany. Her question is: “There have now been the first primaries in Texas. Can you draw any conclusions from the results for the Republicans about how much Donald Trump is still shaping the party?”
And a question from China, from Jia Zeng from Caixin Media: “From the top concerns of voters, what issues related to China do you think the American people care about the most?”
MR YOUNIS: Yes. Thank you so much for your question from China, and thanks for joining us. On the Texas question, I honestly – I’d have to not answer that question because – for two reasons. First of all, we didn’t – we haven’t done – haven’t been really involved ever in polling local elections, like on that level; we’re usually focused on the national scene. With that being said, many analysts have died, figuratively speaking, on the notion of this one primary means that Trump wins, this one primary means that Trump lost. I would bear caution very much against drawing generalizations, and I say this with love to Texas, particularly from Texas, because it is such a unique state, it really is, demographically, politically, economically. It is a very unique place. I grew up in California. It’s a completely different situation than many other states because of the border, because of a lot of factors.
So don’t draw too many conclusions from that. I think Americans are going to vote based on what’s happening in their community, what’s happening with their job, what’s happening with their 401(k)s, which is in – if you work in the private sector, that’s sort of your retirement plan here in the United States. I think those are the factors that are going to drive a lot of the decisions, as opposed to a primary outcome in one or the other.
I would also note honestly, as obviously you know this more than I as seasoned journalists: The media tends to focus on the most flamboyant primaries, but not necessarily the most critical strategically for either party. So when there are really exciting candidates, you’ll see a lot of stories about oh, this primary is – essentially, it’s just a more exciting race politically. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it has any more value or importance per se for either party’s outcome.
And we’re talking about two parties that have very different messages in different parts of the country based on who’s voting. So what a Democrat will say in North Dakota is very different than what a Democrat will say in California, even though they’re in the same party, so there’s tons of variation within each.
Concerns about China – and thank you so much for joining us and being here with us – China, unfortunately – I want to – this is a very important point to make. China is perceived to be the number one enemy of the United States from the perspective of public opinion in the United States. Last year was a high of 42 percent of Americans volunteered that – when we asked who is the number one enemy of the United States, 42 percent of Americans said China. This year 49 percent of Americans said China. That’s really high. That being said, I also want to stress that that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s hate towards Chinese people in the U.S. that is widespread, and I have data to support that.
One of the other countries we’ve always asked about, going back to before the ‘80s, is Japan. Japan had one of the most unfavorable ratings in American public opinion for a couple decades. Today Japan’s favorability rating rates at the par of or even higher than the UK, Canada, and Germany in the American public’s opinion. So it’s not necessarily a focus on unfavorability of people of China. It really is a concern about the policies unfolding between China and the United States. When we dig deeper, a lot of it is about cybersecurity, a lot of it is about the technological advancements taking place in China and people feeling concerned about that.
Less concern, frankly, about the military power of China, but China is absolutely in a very challenging moment in terms of public perception in the United States. Obviously, the pandemic has – did not help and was what brought us up to that first number of 42. But I also want to say there’s been a lot of hate crime – hate crimes against AAIP individuals in the United States have been on the rise. There’s been a lot done to address that, but it’s important for us, I think, as colleagues to always distinguish between perceptions of concerns about the policy of a nation being automatically interpreted as attitudes about the people of those nations.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’re coming to the end of our time, so I’ll do one last call for questions from journalists. I do want to turn to one more question from one of our Asian participants, knowing that you are not an economist, but the question is from Daud Sulaiman from Mothership in Singapore. The question is: “How long do you see the inflationary pressures lasting? And by the time of the midterms, would inflation still be a major issue for voters?”
MR YOUNIS: Oh, man, a financial question from Singapore for a non-economist. I don’t know if I can answer that. All I can point to is, honestly, the data we have. I think we live in the world of public opinion, and Americans certainly expect this to keep going on. Americans are not expecting inflation to get under control anytime soon. Gas prices here are astronomically high. They’re higher – just speaking on a personal level, higher than I can ever remember them being, and the expectation is that they’re going to continue to rise.
Those are really, really critical for Americans for two reasons. Number one, the price of energy at the gas pump is not subsidized in the United States at all, and it is in many other countries across the world. And number two, America is a driving nation, is a very spread-out country. Very few Americans ride the metro or use public transportation. So the price of gas is really, really critical. Even though it’s – summer is coming in and it’s not necessarily a heating concern, it’s going to be a major focus of Americans at this – at night when they sit down at the dinner table with their families.
So you probably know more than me about the macroeconomics, but in terms of public opinion, Americans are in this mindset for the – a little bit of the long haul.
MODERATOR: Okay. With that, if we have no more questions, we will conclude today’s briefing. Oh, do I have one follow-up? No, that’s just a thank you from Singapore.
MR YOUNIS: Thank you. You’re welcome, Sulaiman. You have my son’s name, so there you go.
MODERATOR: With that, we will conclude today’s briefing. On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, I’d like to thank Mr. Younis for speaking to the foreign press today. The next briefing in our Election 2022 series will be on fact checking and countering misinformation with experts from two prominent U.S fact-checking organizations, PolitiFact and factcheck.org. We look forward to seeing you all there. Thank you and good morning.
MR YOUNIS: Good morning.