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US election: What are five big issues that Americans care about?

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Andrea Anthory takes advantage of early voting, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Cleveland.
Andrea Anthory takes advantage of early voting, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Cleveland.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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US voters are flocking to the polls in an election that some are calling the most important of their lifetimes, as President Donald Trump faces a reelection challenge from Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

“It's more important, this is the most important election we've ever had. This is more important than even four years ago,” Trump said at a rally.

Indeed there have already been record numbers of US voters showing up to vote early - but what’s driving these voters to the polls?

It’s been a trying year for many in the country as it grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic and mass protests over racial injustice.

Here are some of the top issues for voters in the US.

COVID-19 pandemic takes centre stage

The US has had a difficult year when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic but the virus is a central issue, mostly for Democratic voters.

As many as 82% think the pandemic is a key issue compared with 24% of Trump voters.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden has made Trump’s handling of the pandemic the central tenet of his campaign argument, criticising the president for hosting large rallies without people wearing masks and for downplaying the seriousness of the virus.

Indeed early missteps in the handling of the pandemic led to heavy criticism of Trump’s administration. The US president previously refused to wear a face mask, which led to their politicisation.

Many of the problems in getting control of the pandemic in the US also stemmed from a lack of testing and faulty tests that were sent across the country by the centres for disease control and prevention in February.

The US continues to be the most impacted country in the world by the numbers with 8.5 million confirmed cases and more than 220,000 deaths.

Economy and job losses

The economy is one of the top issues for American voters, who have seen unemployment skyrocket amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pew Research Centre found in August that the economy was the top issue for 76% of respondents. It was more important for Republican voters, however than Democratic voters.

President Donald Trump has said that Democrats would lock down the country and harm the economy.

"Joe Biden would terminate our recovery, delay the vaccine and annihilate Nevada's economy with a draconian unscientific lockdown," Trump claimed at a rally recently.

The US is dealing with the same economic fallout as many other parts of the world, with GDP falling 32% in the second quarter of 2020, according to the Commerce Department.

US unemployment also hit record lows this past year, hitting 7.9% in September after reaching an all-time high of 14.7% in April.

Many Republicans have praised Trump's tax reform plan, which was viewed as a large overhaul of the tax system that resulted in tax cuts for many Americans. Taxes were down about 25%, according to H&R Block, a company that assists with tax preparation.

Trump has claimed that he created the best economy but many say the trends mainly continued from the economy he inherited from predecessor Barack Obama.

"Americans are well known historically for focussing on the economy. In 1992, Bill Clinton's slogan in the campaign was 'it's the economy, stupid' and basically that's been the case in most presidential elections," said David Redlawsk, a professor and political psychologist at the University of Delaware.

Racial injustice protests

Hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded streets to show support for people of colour in the United States after the death of black American George Floyd at the hands of police.

The video of Floyd saying he could not breathe as a police officer held him down went viral and sparked a conversation about police killings and racism in the country.

Many have criticised President Donald Trump’s reaction to the protests, as he called protesters “looters” repeatedly and refused to denounce white supremacist groups.

“Trump not only has an inability to heal a country reeling from racial unrest, he has been an antagonist. This was illustrated by his response to the protests after George Floyd’s killing, using the military inappropriately, stoking police violence, and downplaying the rise of white nationalism in the country,” said Andre Perry, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

“The get out the vote efforts have increased significantly as a result. People don’t want another four years of this kind of turmoil and strife.”

Crime and policing

The protests also led to a national conversation on policing, with Trump running a campaign to be a “law and order” candidate.

Many conservatives have been concerned about left-wing calls to defund police forces in favour of social and community services.

Trump has claimed that candidate Joe Biden cannot use the words “law enforcement” when speaking.

At the Republican National Convention, a couple from St Louis, Missouri who threatened protesters with guns outside their home, said: "Your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats' America."

Republicans are also concerned about Democratic proposals to change the criminal justice system, including ending cash bail that often impacts low-income Americans.

Candidate Joe Biden wants to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals in the country, specifically those incarcerated for drug use alone.

Supreme Court appointments

The appointment of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court also marked an important moment in the weeks leading up to the US presidential election.

It followed the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon, who died due to complications from pancreatic cancer on September 18.

Her death set off a heated debate on whether she should be replaced, with many expecting the nation's high court to decide on a number of important cases including provisions of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as well as any potential election counting issues.

The lifetime appointment to the court also would impact the balance of the court for generations in favour of conservatives.

Democrats wanted to wait for a new president before confirming a justice, which they say is a precedent set in 2016 by Republicans who refused to confirm a Supreme Court justice in an election year.

Trump has said that Democrats now plan to "pack" the court, or add more justices, if they win in 2020, a question that Biden has so far avoided.

According to the Pew Research Centre, this is a question that matters to both Republicans and Democrats.

Multiple issues driving voters to the polls

Among the other issues driving Americans to the polls are immigration, criminal justice, health care, foreign policy, climate change, abortion and gun policy.

These are big topics that many US voters are focussed on but often split by party.

For instance, climate change is a top issue for Democratic voters, 68% of whom said it was important in August, but it's not as key to Republican voters, with only 11% saying it was a top issue for them.

Abortion and gun policy are also topics that are more important to Republican voters than they are to Democratic voters, according to an August survey by the Pew Research Centre.