The survey, emailed to Times readers and subscribers, asked respondents about which political party most aligns with their views, which issues are most important to them, who they plan to vote for in the presidential race and how happy they were with their choice for president. It is not a scientific poll but provides a picture of what is happening politically among a significant number of Times readers.
About twice as many Republicans as Democrats responded to the survey, with 54.9% saying they were Republicans and 26.8% identifying as Democrats. The majority of respondents, 62.7%, were between the ages of 60 and 79.
We know credible local information is crucial now more than ever. For this article, Times staff developed a political survey, emailed it to readers and subscribers, 712 completed the survey, staff analyzed the results and followed up with a politically diverse selection of respondents who indicated they were willing to speak further with a reporter. While it is not a scientific poll, it gives insights into the issues important to our community ahead of the 2020 presidential election. To our subscribers, thank you for your support; it helps us provide the journalism you've come to trust. For those interested in becoming part of our mission to provide fair, unbiased local news, please consider these two options.
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And while the majority of respondents, at 56.6%, support President Donald Trump, 36.1% said they support former Vice President Joe Biden. When asked to rate their happiness with their choice for president, people gave an average number of 8, indicating they were relatively confident in the decision. In the 2016 election, the Hall County vote was 72.7% for Trump and 22.7% for Hillary Clinton.
Readers were surveyed about the importance of several issues in making their voting decisions — the economy, the U.S. Supreme Court, health care, immigration, education, criminal justice, the federal budget, religious freedom, equal rights, COVID-19, the environment, the Second Amendment and abortion rights.
The top three issues for Republicans were economy, Supreme Court and religious freedom, whereas the top issues for Democrats were health care, equal rights and COVID-19.
The top issue overall was the economy, with 72.6% of people rating it as “very important.” Close behind the economy was the U.S. Supreme Court, which 69.6% of people said was very important — a topic that has made national headlines in recent weeks as Judge Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed by the Senate Monday to become the ninth justice on the court.
Health care ranked third, with 63.9% of people finding it very important, as the country enters its eighth month of the COVID-19 pandemic and some voters are concerned about the reversal of the Affordable Care Act. But the pandemic itself did not rank as high, with 50.4% of respondents indicating that COVID-19 was a very important issue as they made their voting decisions.
Abortion rights ranked lowest of the respondents’ priorities, with 46% saying they found that issue very important.
The Times followed up with some of these survey respondents, on both sides of the political aisle, to discuss the issues that matter to them and how they decided to vote.
What Republicans are saying
Jim Brown, 57, of Gainesville, cites religious liberty as one of his top issues.
“I’m a Christian, and I think it’s obviously important to worship as I choose,” he said.
Replacing late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ties into his ideals. “I’m conservative, and I like to make sure my views are adhered to on the Supreme Court,” Brown said.
The economy is important “for me, being a small business owner,” he said. “The Democrats are going to tax me to death. I’ve lived through both (parties in control), and I know what happens there. I tend to side with the Republican … because they tax less.”
He said he favors Trump “because he is a conservative and he’s the one on the Republican ticket. Is he perfect? No, he’s not perfect, but as far as the options we have available, he’s a much better option than Joe Biden.”
Brown said he can’t see from the Democratic perspective how conservative thinking is flawed, “because I don’t know what their thought process is.”
Warren Daubenspeck, 69, of Gainesville, said he sees balancing the budget and the country’s national debt are key issues for him.
“I don’t think our country should be in debt and, at some point in time, it’s going to have to be paid,” he said.
Daubenspeck said one of the main reasons he voted for Trump in 2016 was the potential to replace several Supreme Court justices with ones holding a literal reading of the U.S. Constitution.
“And he was able to do that – in fact, three of them, or 2 ½ so far,” he said before the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett on Monday, Oct. 26.
As far as his support for Trump, “I look at the alternative, and I think the alternative vote would be for a more socialistic type of government and more federal government involved in our lives,” Daubenspeck said.
He believes the Democrats “live in a bubble … who don’t know what the common person is thinking about.”
“What we’re thinking about is making sure we have worked hard our whole lives and it’s OK to be prosperous and we shouldn’t have to pay the government abnormal taxes,” Daubenspeck said. “It’s OK to be that way.”
For Jennifer Marlow, 61, of Gillsville, public safety is a main concern for her and at the heart of key issues, including immigration.
“A lot of the things that go on (locally) involves drugs and … maybe some (people) over here illegally -- some who have been deported and come back,” she said. “I’m really glad police around here are up on this and stopping a lot of the drugs, which is a big concern to me.”
Marlow said President Trump “sometimes says things he shouldn’t say, but he will say what he means, and you know where he stands. I feel like he is fighting for us. I think he is trying to make it safe here for us and doing what he can.”
She said she believes Biden, by contrast, won’t be a strong leader, if elected.
“I feel like he won’t be the one making decisions. I think they got him in there just to get people to vote on that side, and somebody else is going to be taking over for him, probably.”
Jennifer Schade, 43, of Gainesville, who identified as moderate on the survey, said the Second Amendment may be a major political issue these days, but don’t overlook the First Amendment.
“If we lose (both), we lose our fabric,” she said.
The First Amendment is actually a larger issue for Schade, particularly blocks on freedom of speech or press. “Even if it's a bad idea, I’m better off hearing the bad idea, rather than being told you can’t hear it because it’s a bad idea,” Schade said.
Immigration “is important to me because, while I have wonderful friends who are immigrants, they have come here legally,” Schade said. “They’ve done the process. … It is a safety concern for me because I want to be able to know who my neighbors are -- people who are vetted.”
As for Trump’s appeal, “I appreciate the fact that he is real, regardless of how he’s portrayed,” she said. “If you look at what he actually does versus what the media says about him, he’s been fair, he’s been overgenerous to underprivileged communities.”
Schade conceded “he has a terrible mouth, but that does not make him a terrible human. Maybe he’s like me – you can’t always articulate what we want to say, but we know what we’re going to say and do.”
She believes Democrats and more liberal thinkers think incorrectly that those who are more conservative “don’t care about poverty, don’t care about race. We all have the exact same problems. We just disagree on what the proper solution is.”
Gary Vogel, 66, of Gainesville, said he’s never seen an election “where there’s so much distinction between the two parties. You’ve got one party that’s for a lot of things I’m in favor of and one party that’s really against things I’m in favor of.
“I almost tell people I’m not voting for Donald Trump. I’m voting for the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court candidates, all conservative issues.”
Vogel added: “I thought (Trump) was an egotistical, arrogant crazy man for years. I don’t think that so much anymore, but he’s still certainly a lightning rod for controversy based on some of his tweets and the way he belittles people. … I think he could be more presidential.”
If he had to pick out a top issue, it’s the Supreme Court makeup.
“That’s going to decide so many issues for the next 30 years,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not as big an issue to Vogel and many Republicans in the survey.
“You’ve got to respect that it’s out there, but I think we’ve gone totally overboard,” Vogel said. “To shut down the entire economy of the United States for six months is, in my mind, is insane.”
As a hardware store owner in South Hall, “if I had to be shut down for three months, I would not be coming back,” he said.
“I don’t understand people who would even vote for a party that is pro-abortion, that wants to defund the police, that has supported riots in the streets of United States cities that have refused outside help to quell those riots.”
What Democrats are saying
Nancy Hunt of Gainesville said her voting decision came down to values.
She said a “respect for human rights and dignity” is important to her. In 2016, footage from 2005 of President Donald Trump discussing groping women — “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” he said — resurfaced, and Hunt said “that was it” for her. She marched in the Women’s March in January 2017.
“That was the first political demonstration I’ve ever done. It felt quite empowering,” she said.
Hunt said she has also been concerned by Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I firmly believe that we would not have as many illnesses and deaths as we have if President Trump had modeled the wearing of masks and not denigrated science, had understood that things change when scientists learn new information,” Hunt said.
Hunt said she has voted for Republicans in the past.
“I often feel that people don’t respect my ideas. People will say all liberals do this, all liberals do that,” Hunt said. “... Anyone who says if you’re a Democrat, you believe in socialism and we’re on our way to communism, that’s not true. I have quite moderate views.”
Social media and online misinformation has complicated political discussions, she said, especially with people who do not seek out reliable news sources.
“How do you draw attention to yourself? You do that with vivid, attention-getting headlines. The more bizarre, the better. Clickbait,” she said. “They get their news through Facebook and media that is slanted one direction or the other.”
Hunt said she is also concerned about the Trump campaign’s criticism of absentee voting and possible court battles following the election.
“There’s so much fear being generated that is uncalled for,” Hunt said. “We’ve never seen this before. … I think we have a president who knows he’s in trouble so he’s coming up with every possible excuse he can come up with.”
Betsy Robertson of Gainesville said of Trump, “I do not think he’s made America great again.”
“I’m eager for the country to be back in the hands of a leader who has some decorum and some experience,” Robertson said.
Social justice issues, the environment and the elimination of racism are especially important to her, she said.
“The economy is cyclical, and I don’t always feel that whoever is in the office of president of the United States has a direct impact on that,” she said. “The economy is affected and influenced by so many factors.”
She said she has seen the Democratic Party take more progressive stances on social justice issues than Republicans, especially in the past four years. Some conservatives have misconceptions about more left-leaning people’s views on those issues, Robertson said.
“I think a lot of conservative Christians don’t understand how deeply some of us feel about social justice issues based on our, or my, Christian beliefs,” she said. “It’s hard for conservatives, especially conservative Christians, to square their positions on certain issues with that of more progressive Christians.”
Conversations have become especially polarized in recent months, Robertson said.
“I don’t advocate for violent protest, and I don’t advocate for defunding the police,” she said. “I think that those things get conflated in people’s minds with the liberal point of view. I think a lot of folks presume that I, as a more progressive and left-leaning person in my politics, a lot of conservatives presume that I don’t support the police or that lawlessness is OK with me. It’s clearly not.”
Dave Johnston of Gainesville said the environment and health care access and affordability are the top issues for him.
“Joe Biden was there when Obamacare was launched, and if Obamacare had left to its own devices and left alone, it would be far more successful than even it is today,” Johnston said.
He said he had cancer 10 years ago, when he was self-employed.
“(My family’s health insurance) had climbed to a premium of $2,400 a month, and after the Affordable Care Act and I could shop around and find other coverage, I was able to drop it down to $1,100 a month,” he said. “That’s still a lot of money, but that is a huge difference, and that is because of the Obama and Biden health care plan.”
And of Trump’s health care plan, Johnston said “there’s absolutely no plan whatsoever, other than to hate the one that’s there.”
Johnston said he is also disappointed in Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in comparison to other nations like South Korea that have seen lower case and death rates.
“You can’t talk your way out of a pandemic,” he said.
Johnston encouraged voters to pay attention to all the races on the ballot, not just the presidential election.
“Believe the hype. It really is a very serious election this year,” he said. “... While the presidential election is important, so is the Senate. The Senate has an incredible amount of constitutional power that is way too often overlooked, and we saw what happened when President Obama had a Republican Senate, it really hampered his ability to govern effectively.”
Caroline Kiger of Flowery Branch said Trump has divided the country and failed to reach across the political aisle.
“I just can’t bring myself to vote for a man who is in such a powerful position and has so little regard for anyone who disagrees with him,” she said.
COVID-19, women’s rights, reproductive health access and racial equality are the top issues for her, she said.
Abortion and gun control are especially contentious issues between the two major parties, she said.
“I don’t think Democrats are pro-abortion. That makes it sound like we encourage people to get abortions when they’re not necessary,” Kiger said. “And while I do believe in gun control, I do believe in the right to own a gun. I just think there needs to be a little more accountability in who purchases these guns and what happens when they use them with bad intentions.”
She said that while she has known some people who contracted COVID-19 and were fine, others she has known ended up in intensive care units of hospitals. She said she is concerned by some pointing to mild cases to minimize the pandemic.
“Just because it hasn’t happened to them, doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” Kiger said.
She said she is also disappointed by Trump’s response to COVID-19.
“The president was concerned about his ratings whenever the task force would give briefings,” she said. “That’s not the reason why you give briefings. … The way he contradicts what the experts say makes it OK for individuals in the communities to also contradict what the experts say, and I think that’s why we keep seeing such a surge.”