Lost in the presidential race? These are the issues that matter to Georgia voters

The debate last Thursday between former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden revealed something about the personalities and weaknesses of the two candidates, but some have said there was little focus on issues during the event. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

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The debate last Thursday between former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden revealed something about the personalities and weaknesses of the two candidates, but some have said there was little focus on issues during the event. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

Since the presidential debate in Atlanta last Thursday, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have faced a barrage of criticism about their performance.

For Biden, it’s been framed around his age, with polls showing many voters consider him too old to serve another term. For Trump, his responses led some to consider him too dangerous to retake command.

The focus on the candidates’ personalities and defects have meant that key topics important to voters in Georgia have flown under the radar.

After Patrick Delisle, a 55-year-old physical therapist from Cherokee County, watched the televised debate hosted by CNN in Atlanta, he said neither candidate addressed some of the biggest issues he’s worried about, such as the economy and immigration.

“Both candidates, in my opinion, didn’t really answer questions a lot of times, but what did you expect from these two guys?” Delisle said.

Here are the issues that ranked highest in importance to Georgia voters, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll published ahead of the debate:

Voter voices: The latest from 5 bellwether Georgia counties

Inflation/cost of living

By far, the issues that reigned supreme on voters’ minds are those discussed at the kitchen table: gas prices, paying for groceries, housing. More than one-quarter of respondents, 26%, said inflation and cost of living will have the largest impact on their vote in November. The issue also ranked as the top concern when cutting across demographic lines, such as race, gender, age and income level.

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation rose globally. But since recovery efforts began, the U.S. has seen its inflation figures reduced as compared with other developed countries. Still, many voters believe their dollar is not going as far as it used to.

“I used to be able to save a ton more money,” said Carly Loggins, a 23-year-old real estate agent from Athens. “I’m not able to save hardly anything now. I just live paycheck to paycheck.”

Economy/jobs

Concern about the nation’s economy and growth of jobs was also high on the list, with 16% ranking it their chief priority, despite data suggesting the economy is improving.

It can feel like whiplash to get a fair picture of the economy. On one hand, the unemployment rate is at an all-time low; Georgia added 9,200 jobs in May alone, a better-than-average record. The nation’s stock indexes — while volatile at times — have reached record highs during the Biden administration.

But on the other, the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates in an effort to fight against inflation, increasing the cost of borrowing.

Preserving democracy

Aside from pocketbook worries, 15% of voters in the AJC poll said they’re concerned about “preserving democracy” in the upcoming election. About 1 in 5 voters who are 65 years or older listed it as the most important issue. But there is a partisan divide: 25% of Democrats said it was their top priority, compared with 4% of Republicans.

In Georgia and in the District of Columbia, Trump faces criminal charges involving his efforts to overturn the election results in 2020. He’s also charged in Florida with mishandling classified documents after he left office. That’s on top of his recent conviction on 34 counts of falsifying business records in a New York trial stemming from payments his campaign made to porn star Stormy Daniels.

In the debate, Trump said the prosecutions against him are politically motivated. He also declined responsibility for his supporters breaching the U.S. Capitol while Congress counted electoral votes in hopes of reversing his reelection defeat.

But all the cases against Trump are in some jeopardy. The U.S. Supreme Court released a ruling Monday that held presidents are partially immune from prosecution.

Karen Williams, who lives in DeKalb County, said preserving voter rights was her top issue this election.

“I am very, very focused on the preservation of democracy and the preservation of freedom,” Williams said. “The Biden-Harris administration personifies that. The opposing candidate, not so much.”

Immigration

Whether it was health care, jobs or the opioid epidemic, the conversation throughout the debate seemed to drift back toward immigration. It’s an issue that resonates with Georgia voters: 13% listed it as their primary concern in the AJC poll.

Jake Shanahan, a 77-year-old retiree from Sandy Springs, said he has been disappointed in Biden’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“You look at the news, and he says it’s secure,” Shanahan said. “It’s obvious that, if what’s on TV is true, it’s not secure. I think he should take action to correct that.”

That issue, however, varied across demographic lines. Just over 1% of Black respondents said it was their highest concern, compared with 17% of white respondents. And along party lines, 24% of Republicans said immigration was their main focus, compared with 4% of Democrats.

Under the Biden presidency, unlawful border crossings have reached historic highs, although they dropped to a three-year low in June. His administration has expanded some pathways to come to the U.S. legally, including protections for unauthorized immigrants married to U.S. citizens.

Meanwhile, when asked whether he would deport people who are in the country illegally, including those who are married to citizens, have jobs or have been in the U.S. for decades, Trump said: “We have to get a lot of these people out. We have to get them out fast.”

Abortion

Georgia was mentioned almost instantly during the presidential debate, with Biden highlighting the state’s abortion law that bans most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many know they are pregnant.

It’s a subject that has remained on voters’ minds, with 8% of voters in the AJC poll indicating abortion would determine their presidential preference. Among age groups, abortion was the biggest concern for those between 18 and 29 years old, at 14%. It also ranked as a higher concern for women (12%) than men, (2%).

Shana Williams, a 39-year-old health care worker from Decatur, said neither candidate at Thursday’s debate addressed issues in a nuanced way. But she sided with Biden’s stance on abortion.

“I think that it’s each person’s right to choose. For example, I was on birth control when I got pregnant,” Williams said. “Some people think, ‘Oh, you’re getting an abortion because you’re irresponsible; just practice safe sex.’ That’s not necessarily the case.”

Trump took credit for the three U.S. Supreme Court justices he nominated who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that guaranteed a nationwide right to abortion. The decision striking down Roe allowed states to set their own restrictions.

Staff writers Lautaro Grinspan, Zachary Hansen, Michael E. Kanell, Mark Niesse, Maya T. Prabhu, J. Scott Trubey and David Wickert contributed to this article.


                        Groceries in a shopping cart in Omaha, Neb., on June 3, 2024. Conservative media outlets used the new inflation data, which was lower than expected, to criticize President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy. Liberal media outlets celebrated it. (Rebecca S. Gratz/The New York Times)

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FILE - Assembly line worker Lashunta Harris applies the Ford logo on a 2024 Ford F-150 truck being assembled at the Dearborn Truck Plant, April 11, 2024, in Dearborn, Mich. On Friday, June 5, 2024, the U.S. government issues its June jobs report. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

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FILE - Rioters wave flags on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. Former President Donald Trump said during a debate with President Joe Biden last week that the attack on the Capitol involved a "relatively small" group of people who were "in many cases ushered in by the police." (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

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A Supreme Court police officer monitors the scene as abortion rights activists and Women's March leaders clash with anti-abortion counter-protesters during a national day of strike actions outside the Supreme Court, Monday, June 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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FILE - Migrants are taken into custody by officials at the Texas-Mexico border, Jan. 3, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas. A federal judge on Friday, June 28, 2024, approved the Biden administration’s request to partially end a nearly three-decade-old agreement to provide court oversight of how the government cares for migrant children in its custody. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, file)

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