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Who Are The Voters And What Matters To Them?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

About two-thirds of voters say the country is heading in the wrong direction, and the coronavirus is a top issue, if not the top issue, for many. Also, over half of the electorate says the economy is not doing well. That is from some early data coming in from an extensive survey from the Associated Press in conjunction with National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Here to talk about it is NPR's Juana Summers. She covers demographics in politics.

Hey, Juana.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: So give us just a little background on this survey. Who's being polled? What's the time frame?

SUMMERS: Yeah. So AP's VoteCast is a survey of the U.S. electorate that's conducted over several days before Election Day, and it'll continue until the polls close this evening. It gives us a look at who's voting as well as who isn't. It also tells us a lot about what matters to them.

KELLY: Well, and who is voting? What do we - what can we learn from this about this year's election?

SUMMERS: Yeah. So we knew coming into this day that more than 100 million people voted ahead of Election Day. And the AP's VoteCast data shows that 71% of voters voted early or absentee, while 29% voted on Election Day. And one big thing that I've been taking a look at is who showed up this year that did not show up four years ago. Fifteen percent of voters surveyed said they did not vote four years ago. We've known for a while now that this has been a pretty stable race, and the data bears that out, too. About three-quarters of voters say they've known all along who they were going to support in this election.

KELLY: All right. Let's put the details about who's going to vote and who's not to the side just for a second and just dive in on the issues, what voters are saying is important to them, how they feel about the state of the nation because there's some fascinating headlines here.

SUMMERS: There are. You know, it is clear from the survey that President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are facing a very dissatisfied electorate. Roughly 6 in 10 voters said the country is headed in the wrong direction. We also know that the president's leadership loomed large for voters. Nearly two-thirds of voters said that their vote was about the president, whether it was for him or against him.

KELLY: It also sounds like the coronavirus understandably is looming really large in people's minds.

SUMMERS: It absolutely is. More than half of voters - 53% - say that the coronavirus pandemic is not at all under control. Roughly 4 in 10 say this was the top issue facing this country. We're also learning a lot more about how voters view the president's handling of this pandemic. Fifty-eight percent of voters say they disapprove of how the president has handled the coronavirus pandemic.

And the last thing that I find interesting is this does give us a snapshot on how the pandemic has personally impacted people in this country. About 4 in 10 people say their household lost a job or income due to the pandemic, and about 2 in 10 said they had a close friend or family member die. About half said they'd missed a major event due to the coronavirus pandemic - so certainly hurting Americans in a lot of different ways there.

KELLY: Yeah, absolutely. Let me ask you about something specific to this election - the president's repeated claims, claims without evidence, that this election would be rigged, could be rigged. Did the survey ask about that, about how confident voters are in the integrity of the election?

SUMMERS: It did, and voters are pretty measured. About a quarter of voters said that they are very confident that the votes in this election will be counted accurately. About 4 in 10 voters were somewhat confident, and about 3 in 10 said they were not confident that there would be an accurate vote count this year.

KELLY: One other issue to ask about before I let you go - the national reckoning that we've witnessed over race and justice. What do voters say about that issue and how that might factor into their vote?

SUMMERS: Yeah, this one's really interesting. About half of voters say that racism is a very serious problem in society. Roughly 3 in 10 say it's somewhat serious. About 2 in 10 say that it is not a serious problem. About a third of voters said the police in this country are too tough on crime, and a smaller share say that police are not tough enough. But here's what's interesting. Compared to the pandemic and the economy, which loom quite large for voters, relatively few voters - about 1 in 10 - say that racism is the country's most important issue, and an even fewer share called law enforcement the most important issue facing this nation.

KELLY: NPR's Juana Summers reporting.

Thank you, Juana.

SUMMERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.