Editor’s Note: This roundup is part of the CNN Opinion series “America’s Future Starts Now,” in which people share how they have been affected by the biggest issues facing the nation and experts offer their proposed solutions.
A teacher at a community college in Texas working, in her words, “in an environment that feels more and more like a prison.” A lawyer from Massachusetts whose pregnant girlfriend got an abortion many decades ago and now – on the flip side of the separate, successful lives they both went on to live – says the “thought of women of reproductive age being forced to birth an unwanted child into almost inevitable poverty and abuse by an uncaring government is not a part of my vision of what America is about.” A New Yorker who after losing her father to Covid is still most afraid of gun violence: “The violence is everywhere and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before I’m a victim. I’ve always had street smarts, but that’s not enough these days.”
Those are the perspectives of three of the hundreds of readers who shared stories with us about how they have been personally affected by key political issues coloring the 2022 midterm elections. Since the end of August, CNN Opinion has been collecting and curating these stories, focusing on illuminating how policy issues – inflation, abortion rights, climate change, Covid-19, education, gun violence and more – are making an impact on readers’ day-to-day lives.
In the weeks leading up to the midterms, as part of a series called “America’s Future Starts Now,” a wide-ranging group of essayists, including a shooting survivor, three poll workers and an OB-GYN specializing in maternal-fetal medicine, have also shared how they have been transformed personally by a number of these issues. Multiple experts have offered their proposed solutions for the best ways forward.
Now, with the election nearly here, it’s time to hear from CNN Opinion readers about what’s most urgent for them in these upcoming votes. For some of you, it comes down to a passionate belief in a woman’s right to choose or the fears of how inflation or an unstable economy may hurt you and your family. One self-described longtime Democrat, for instance, wrote that he “can no longer support the party…for me, it’s not about abortion, it’s not about climate change, gun control or any of the Democrats’ big issues. It’s about being able to put food on the table for my family. That’s it in a nutshell. Gas prices, groceries bills, everything has gone up. We’re in financial trouble and are barely getting by. Is [former President Donald] Trump a horrible person? Absolutely he is. But we could get by when he was in the White House, it’s just a fact. I voted for Joe Biden and I’ll never ever make that mistake again.”
For others, this election lays bare deeper concerns. For example, Brandon moved to Minnesota from Utah last year with his husband and cited anxieties about the fate of his marriage under the rule of a conservative Supreme Court in a red state and the effects of climate change in the West as factors. But for him, life in general these days is about “Anxiety after anxiety. It’s never ending. ‘Is it safe to go to the store today? What’s the risk of a mass shooting in my area? Is Covid transmission high in my city? Can we afford non generic toilet paper? Will there even be any in stock?’ My brain goes through both the logical and emotional responses to daily life in America.”
Such anxiety and fatigue at the realities of American life were palpable from many of you, sometimes existentially so. “I want to hear from candidates for office exactly what measures they will put in place to stop global warming and save the world. Can any other issue even matter if we are facing our possible extinction?” asked Benjamin from Illinois. Climate change was a strong concern for many, including the reader who wrote: “My wife and I have always wanted to move back to the Southwest when we retire. But, we are concerned about the forest fires and drought, which are becoming the ‘new normal.’ I’m thankful that Biden and the congressional Democrats are working to deal with climate change. And, I’m a bit shocked and disappointed that no Republicans are willing to vote for even modest bills that deal with the climate. Don’t they have children and grandchildren, too?”
For others, the fear was not about policy issues or even daily life, but about the political system itself, concerns for US democracy. “If we do not secure the integrity of our democracy, the other issues won’t matter,” wrote one reader. “Democracy itself is on the ballot this fall,” said another. Timothy from North Carolina put it this way: “I vote in every election. It is a duty as an American. This election is a referendum on the soul of our country.”
We know the stakes are high and we are grateful to everyone who shared their experiences with us.
Some entries have been lightly edited for clarity or flow.
The most pressing issue is ‘this huge void between us’
As a lifelong conservative-leaning independent, I feel I am in this enormous void; stuck somewhere in an invisible middle ground. While I share many (not all) basic conservative views, I feel that the MAGA crowd has taken this GOP to a place that I just cannot see any of us, outside of pure anarchists’, would want to go. Let’s not kid ourselves, while there are so many crucial issues facing us today of which these midterms stand to have major import. The elephant in the room (pun intended) is the looming possible return of Trump in 2024 and his influence on local, state and federal elected officials in these midterms. Should Trump manage to find his way back into office coddled by sycophantic election deniers at all levels, I truly fear our democracy may not survive.
On the other hand, when I listen to those on the left, they are so far from representing me that I feel I am purposely being pushed away – not welcome or wanted in that camp. I am all for inclusivity, equal rights, tolerance and open-mindedness, but when it is taken to a level where it warps and turns into exclusivity, biasedness, intolerance and closed-mindedness in its own right, it gets us nowhere.
So, of all these pressing issues we are faced with in these midterms, to me, without a doubt, the most pressing is this huge void between us. We no longer just disagree on these issues, but we despise, villainize and feel those who disagree with us are evil people looking to destroy our country. Not only is this sentiment not rejected and frowned upon by those who hold elected office, but it is often stoked mightily in attempts to appeal to respective bases, and garner votes. It’s like an out of control brush fire. Unless we start seeing each other as fellow human beings perhaps with different views and opinions, and not as mortal enemies, nothing else will be solved.
– Anthony G, Massachusetts
‘It’s getting really hard to keep up’
Inflation is hurting my family. I work full time but it’s getting really hard to keep up with our power bill and the food prices are scaring me.
– Heather E., Decatur, IL
How to connect with ‘ordinary Americans’
I’m a working woman in my late 20s with an advanced degree. I fought tooth and nail to avoid debt through school via scholarships and working. I got married during Covid, and I just bought a house last month amid soaring prices and interest rates because it was time for my family to invest in our future. Our lives don’t stop because of the pandemic, inflation or political war. I want a proactive government less focused on forgiveness, leniency, and finger pointing. Stop reacting to things as they happen, and start strategizing for the future – that’s how you’ll connect with these “ordinary Americans” you’re always touting.
– Rachel B., Ann Arbor, MI
I want my country to live up to its potential
I am a librarian. I am a woman. I am bisexual. Any of these three facts about myself could and should make me more interested in this midterm election then most. I was brought up in the belief that it is my responsibility as a citizen to vote, and have missed very few since I turned 18. I sure won’t be missing this one.
My career has been about sharing stories and providing access to information to people who want or need it. We cannot as a society have equitable access to information without libraries and the freedom of those libraries to carry the materials which will allow people of color to see themselves and their stories represented. Without a means for LGBTQ+ youth and adults to access the information they need to remain healthy and stories to know they are not alone, even if their families are the ones isolating them.
As a woman, I am terrified that I might get prosecuted if I need an abortion. I don’t have many years yet, and have made the decision to talk to my doctor about a hysterectomy rather than take the risk. I am highly considering a major surgery because my state does not believe in my bodily autonomy.
As a bisexual single woman, I would really like to have the right to marry if I fall in love with a woman and have it recognized in the state I live. I am scared I will lose that right.
These three things are my personal reasons. However, I also have empathy toward people who are transgender and their families. The only people who should be making decisions about the medical care of the child are the parents and doctors of those children. Not the government.
I believe in voting equality. The moves against allowing equitable access to the polls is terrifying. I believe the gun control, climate control, and health care legislation which were passed were a good start, but do not go far enough.
And most of all, while I don’t like the turn our country has taken for the last several years, I do love my country. I want it to live up to its potential. I want to be proud of it. So I will use my voice this November.
– Jennifer F., Houston, TX
I don’t want to feel unsafe in my own country
I wish I didn’t have to vote out of fear. I’m a Democrat, but I’d always consider a Republican candidate if they had good ideas. Not any more. The Republican Party has fully embraced Trumpism, along with its racism, misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism, corruption, authoritarianism, cruelty and White Christian nationalism. In the past, I’d be willing to accept a Republican government even if I disagreed with their policies. Now, I’d feel unsafe in my own country if they took over. I don’t just want the Republicans to lose these midterms. I want them to be utterly crushed with the hope they become a true political party again.
– Matthew S., Orange County, CA
A long-time Republican faces an untenable choice
I have been a voting Republican for over 40 years. The Democrats can’t give money away fast enough and are saddling us with outrageous debt, but the Trump et al takeover of the Republican party leaves me no good choices. I can vote for the irresponsible or vote for the crazy. I will vote straight-ticket Democrat knowing full well the damage it does do to our economy against the current tribe that has taken the Republican party – and whether through intent or stupidity or personal avarice – to a place that threatens the very fabric of our country. One day, I expect our grand-children will learn about Trumpism and McCarthyism and question how we fell for the same old fear mongering so badly again….. I pray for the return of civility and rational discourse to our political process.
– Keith W., Pace, Florida
The emotional toll is what hurts most
The most direct impact today is the mere cost of living. My husband and I have been married 52 years and struggle every month to pay the bills and eat. We do know we are luckier than a lot of seniors though. Neither of us blames a political party on inflation. The country was basically shut down for 2 years, what did we expect? The real stuff of nightmares though is everything else. The loss of rights, the crazed fanaticism to a cult leader, children getting gunned down, the attack on the Capitol …. I still cry when I think of it. The emotional toll is far worse than not being able to afford a bag of potato chips! The hopelessness of the political climate, racism, book banning, and pure lunacy is what chips away at one’s mental health. I long for the day when once again I can be truly proud of our flag. I hope I can live long enough.
– Linda C., Phoenix, AZ
A voter conflicted
As a California resident, I feel super conflicted about the midterms. On the one hand, national issues like the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the disgusting gun violence are exceedingly urgent and motivating to help halt any “red wave.” On the other hand, local politics have me extremely wary of voting for Democrats in city and state elections due to crime, homeless and the infuriating performance of out-of-control liberal DAs.
Living in Los Angeles in 2022 is quite different from when I grew up here. I want to support Democrats nationally and ensure they hold the House and Senate, so they can protect my civil liberties and women’s rights – but California is a mess right now and it’s really difficult to justify an all out “go Democrats” rallying cry when the status of my home state and city, which more directly impacts my day-to-day life, is so dire. Likewise for New York CIty, which i called home for 10 years – it’s even scarier watching what is going on out there! My international friends now send me messages of sympathy and literal fear for my safety.
– Trevor L., Los Angeles, CA
This is the end of my voting across party lines
I used to vote across party lines. That ended when the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade. I think the current Republican Party has gone off the rails. They have taken away basic fundamental rights for women managing their own health. Women’s reproductive health belongs between her and her provider. This is beyond dangerous!
I am sick to my stomach about the loss of life that will occur because of a complete lack of understanding of medical conditions and pregnancy. Being pregnant is the most dangerous time for women of reproductive age. And yet old White men with no medical background continue to make medical decisions often based on myths for women. Delaying having children is a way for women to have children when they are mentally, financially and emotionally ready for children. To force pregnant women to carry to term is just wrong. For that reason I will not be voting for Republicans in the near future or at all.
– Denise C., Hawaii
‘I am optimistic about the future’
As a registered Republican, I’ve been frustrated generally by the party’s support of individual “rights” over the welfare of others, which if it continues, I feel will have a negative impact on our country as a whole. I am optimistic about the future, as I do believe that the majority of people will choose to do what is responsible for society as a whole.
– Robert G., Elkhart, Indiana
What’s made life post-high school more difficult
As a college student I have been most impacted by the cost of university education and the effects of Covid-19. This combined with mental health issues has made life post-high school much more difficult. I will be voting in November for candidates who will push for the reduction of college tuition and expand health care programs for low income Americans.
– Nathan L., Ann Arbor, MI
Address the cost of college, now
Something has to be done about college tuition. I attended Penn State from 1979-1983 and owed a total of $7500 when I graduated. I paid that loan off. I then went back to college to add another teaching certificate to address a critical need. I only took seven classes and owed $21,000. Until we rein in the cost of college, students graduating will continue to have insurmountable debt. I was lucky and graduated during Covid. I have had the luck of a part-time evening teaching position that let me pay down that student loan to $10,000 because I didn’t have to pay interest. Why aren’t we addressing the problem of high cost and lack of funding by the federal government to keep the cost of college down?
– P.P., Pine City, NY
We left a divided US
We moved to the UK because we were afraid of our kids being shot at school. We will never go back with the US as divided as it is.
– Lauren A., Surrey, United Kingdom
‘Keep government out of my exam rooms’
As a physician who cares for a rural community I have been greatly impacted. I have voted Republican, Independent, Green and Democratic over my lifetime. I will never vote Republican again based on the party’s extreme change from its historic roots and the direct threat they caused to my personal life and my family’s.
Republicans lost a voter forever based on the handling of Covid. It has affected my work significantly. My patients and friends have died listening to non-evidence-based advice.
They made it worse with abortion rights. My patients’ lives have been altered. My ability to care for my community now might make me a criminal just for following the evidence-based recommendations to properly care for my patients.
Factor in climate change, which affects all the farmers I care for and their ability to feed their own families and all of ours, and it has all been sad to continue to watch and listen to. Hopefully politicians can do what they say they will: Keep government out of my exam rooms.
– Dr. Mike, rural northern Wisconsin
It’s hard sending our kids to school knowing it might be the last time
Gun violence. I have not been personally impacted in that neither me nor my family have been victims. But it is so hard to send your babies to school every morning knowing that it might be the last time you see them. And the powers that be in my state will not do anything about it.
– Joe W., El Paso, TX
‘I used to ignore midterm and local elections. Never again’
While I worry about epidemics and inflation, I do not dwell on them because I believe there is very little we can do proactively about them. I see those issues as reactive ones. All I can do is get my vaccinations and watch my spending. However, out of control rent increases scare me to death. I am a retired senior who will be priced out of my apartment within a year. Gun violence (coupled with our systemic racism) is my top issue. We can do something about it. Why would any clear-thinking adult believe that any private citizen needs an assault rifle? So much posturing and so many sound bites while innocents die every day. A woman’s right to choose is between her doctor and herself. Period. I do not understand why a very vocal minority make such a big deal about this when a majority of Americans support her right to choose.
My hopes for the future: a kinder, gentler place to live and let live, including a greener planet. I used to ignore midterm and local elections. Never again. I vote now in every contest, I research the candidates, I use my unaffiliated status to work the others’ primaries, and I shall vote Democratic until I can longer take a breath.
– Vereen M., Morganton, NC
This is my biggest hope for the future
I am a 65 year old, married White male with two college age children. Certainly, the cost of education is a major factor for our whole family right now and we hope our 529s will be sufficient to keep our children from having to take on significant debt. My biggest concern for the future, however, is how the balance in our culture between rights and responsibilities has gotten so far out of whack and how seething resentments drive so much of public discourse and policy and crowd out reasoned debate between people with legitimately differing views. That colors how all the issues listed here are being addressed. My biggest hope for the future, and source of optimism, is the young people I see taking ownership of critical issues, such as March for Our Lives or the students I read about recently who are taking it upon themselves to provide responsible and factual sex education to their peers that their schools won’t do.
– Jonathan A., Syracuse, NY
‘We are very afraid for our freedoms’
My wife is planning to be a librarian and both of us are afraid of the violent threats against libraries by all of these right wing groups with their anti-diversity views. In our community a group of Proud Boys came and disrupted a library diversity event. The presenter had to escape through a back door. We are very afraid for our freedoms being quelled through violence by the very people who call themselves “patriots.”
– Eric G., Wilmington, NC